Wildlife authorities in Uganda have arrested four men connected to the killing of a 25-year-old male gorilla, the leader of a group and hugely popular with tourists in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
The silverback gorilla, named Rafiki, was killed after it went missing on June 1. Its body was found the next day.
One of the arrested men, who had been found in possession of wild hog meat, rope and wire snares and spears, “confessed to killing the gorilla in self-defence”, the state-run Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) said in a statement on Friday.
He claimed the gorilla had charged at him while he and a colleague were hunting.
The UWA statement said the four men had been arrested “after a postmortem report revealed that the Silverback sustained an injury by a sharp device/object that penetrated its left upper part of the abdomen up to the internal organs”.
One of the arrested men had been found in possession of wild hog meat, rope and wire snares and spears, the statement added.
Rafiki was the head of a 17-member gorilla group called Nkuringo.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site near Uganda’s border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is a 320-square-kilometre (124-square-mile) patch of dense tropical forest that is home to primates, elephants, antelopes and other wildlife.
Tourists are largely drawn to the park by its estimated 400 mountain gorillas – roughly half the world’s population.
However, visitors have dropped dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic, putting a strain on the local population and conservation efforts that rely on the funds.
Reports of wildlife poaching – which is rampant in Uganda’s game parks, with police frequently announcing seizures of illicitly acquired wildlife products such as ivory, rhino horns and pangolin scales – have also increased amid the reduced activity.