On June 12th, Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) released a statement on the death of Rafiki, the lead and only silverback of Nkuringo group in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda. Gorilla Doctors’ post-mortem examination on Rafiki revealed that the likely cause of death was the result of injury from a sharp device/object that penetrated his left upper abdomen and passed through his internal organs. According to UWA’s statement, this injury was the result of a spear and UWA has arrested four poachers.

Rafiki, Nkuringo Group, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. © Gorilla Doctors

Location: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Gorilla Group: Nkuringo

Gorilla: Silverback Rafiki

Gorilla Doctor: Ricky Okwir Okello

Date: June 2, 2020

On June 1, 2020, UWA trackers reported not seeing silverback Rafiki during their observation of Nkuringo group. UWA organized a major search on June 2nd and located Rafiki’s body within a few hours; UWA then notified Gorilla Doctors. Dr. Ricky immediately trekked into the forest with a post-mortem kit to perform an examination of the dead silverback.

While conducting a post-mortem examination, Dr. Ricky noted that Rafiki had sustained what appeared to be a sharp-force penetrating wound in the upper left abdomen, piercing part of the stomach wall and large intestine. As UWA announced, the wound was later identified to be caused by a spear and was very likely the cause of death.

Rafiki’s Backstory

As many of you know, Rafiki means ‘friend’ in Swahili, but did you know how he first got his name? Rafiki joined Nkuringo group in 2003 as a wild blackback which is extremely rare (outside males do not usually join a group)! One morning, UWA trackers found an unidentified member in the group – this friendly blackback who never charged at anyone and seemed to be at peace with the lead silverback of the group, also called Nkuringo. So the trackers decided to name him Rafiki in honor of his friendly (but very unusual) behavior.

How do we know this? At the same time of Rafiki’s arrival to Nkuringo group in 2003, Dr. Benard Ssebide, Gorilla Doctors’ head veterinarian in Uganda, was with UWA, serving as an Assistant Warden in Charge of the Nkuringo Sector as well as leading Research & Monitoring in Bwindi. Dr. Benard joined Gorilla Doctors in 2007.

A Note from the Executive Director

Gorilla Doctors did not share news of Rafiki’s death earlier out of respect for UWA’s important investigation to identify the perpetrator/s.

This is the second loss in just over a year of a silverback in Nkuringo group, with silverback Kirungi’s body found on May 21, 2019 (Rafiki was always the dominant of the two). Following the loss of Rafiki, Nkuringo group now consists of 16 mountain gorillas – 3 blackbacks, 8 adult females, 2 juveniles and 3 infants. The loss of the only silverback will change the situation for remaining group members – the group could break up if the females join other mountain gorilla groups in the area, or another silverback could take over. If a non-habituated silverback were to take over the group, the group would likely have to undergo a new habituation process before tourists could once again visit that group. Naturally, both UWA and Gorilla Doctors will be monitoring Nkuringo group very closely over the next several weeks.

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