A gorilla silverback walks among members of a group of gorillas in the Republic of Congo. File Photo by Thomas Breuer/UPI/Wildlife Conservation Society | License Photo
July 30 (UPI) -- A Ugandan court Thursday sentenced a poacher who confessed to killing gorilla Rafiki in Uganda last month to 11 years in prison.
The silverback Rafiki, which translates to "friend" in Swahili -- led the Nkuringo troop, consisting of more than a dozen gorillas, that has been popular with visitors to a national park in Uganda for decades, The New York Times reported. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park where Rafiki once roamed is a nearly 80,000-acre UNESCO World Heritage site in southwestern Uganda that is home to about half of the world's mountain gorilla population, according to its website.
Rafiki was believed to be 25 years old when he was reported missing on June 1, according to the Times. The next day his mutilated body was found inside the park and a post-mortem report showed a sharp device injured his abdomen and internal organs.
Byamukama Felix was arrested a few days after Rafiki's body was found with bush pig meat and several hunting devices on hand, authorities said. Felix pleaded guilty to charges of killing a gorilla, entering a protected area and possessing illegal meat. He told authorities he killed Rafiki in self-defense after the silverback charged him. Three other men were arrested, but pleaded not guilty and remain in custody awaiting trial. Chief Magistrate Julius Borere sentenced Felix to 11 years in prison on three counts of illegal entering into a protected area, killing a gorilla and a duiker, a Uganda Wildlife statement said.
Uganda Wildlife's Executive Director Sam Mwandha said in the statement that the court's decision means that Rafiki has received justice.
"We are relieved that Rafiki has received justice and this should serve as an example to other people who kill wildlife," Mwandha said. "If one person kills wildlife, we all lose, therefore we request every person to support our efforts of conserving wildlife for the present and for future generations."