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Death of Popular Rare Gorilla Could Be Devastating for Others

Gorilla group left behind after Rafiki allegedly killed by poacher in Uganda may be left 'unstable'
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 13, 2020 8:15 AM CDT

(Newser) – About half of the world's mountain gorillas can be found in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. That number has just fallen by one, after local wildlife authorities say a male gorilla popular with tourists was killed by a poacher, per Reuters and the BBC. The Uganda Wildlife Authority calls the death of Rafiki, a 25-year-old silverback—who went missing on June 1 and whose body was found the next day in the UNESCO park in Buhoma—a "big blow." Rafiki's death appears to have been caused by a spear that pierced his internal organs, per a probe by the UWA, which notes four men have been detained, one of them with rope, spears, and wild hog meat in his possession. The New York Times identifies that poacher as Byamukama Felix. The paper notes that the last time a spear fatally wounded a mountain gorilla was in June 2011, per the International Gorilla Conservation Programme.

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The UWA notes that Felix claimed he killed Rafiki in self-defense when the gorilla charged at him. "Whereas the purposeful targeting of mountain gorillas by poachers is rare, this incident highlights the threats posed to mountain gorillas," the head of the IGCP says. A UWA rep says Rafiki's death may have dire consequences for the 17-member gorilla group he led, noting his killing "leaves the group unstable ... [with] the possibility that it could disintegrate." The UWA says in a statement that the four detained men are being held at a local police station as they await trial; charges against them are unclear, though they could face life in prison or a fine of $5.4 million if convicted of killing an endangered species, per the BBC. Both the World Wildlife Fund and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund note there are only about 1,000 or so mountain gorillas left, though their numbers have been rising. (Read more gorilla stories.)

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