Three suspected poachers have been arrested over the brutal killing of a 12-year-old male mountain gorilla in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, south-western Uganda, on June 17. Four others are on the run.
The robust gorilla identified as Mizaano, who was the only black back in the Habinyanja mountain gorilla family, was speared to death as he tried to fight the poachers’ hunting dogs. The poachers had reportedly laid traps in the forest, targeting antelopes, duikers and other edible animals, but the traps caught the male gorilla instead.
The three suspects, who are alleged to be notorious poachers, are: Amos Kazongo, 52; Fidel Bemugisha,53 and Leonard Byamugisha, 22, all residents of Mpungu sub-county in Kanungu district. Those on the run were only identified as Bagoro, Mbabazi and Kashabe.
Conservation through Public Health (CTPH) doctors, headed by Dr Stephen Lubanga, carried out a postmortem whose preliminary finding showed that the gorilla died a brutal death because it was speared through the right side of the shoulder into the lungs, causing it to suffocate.
Mountain gorillas, the lifeline of Uganda’s tourism industry, are critically endangered, with only 720 individuals remaining in the world. More than a half of the total population is found in Bwindi, where they are threatened with encroachment on their habitat, low birth rates and zoonotic diseases.
The mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) is one of two subspecies of the eastern gorilla (Gorilla beringei). It is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, as the total population is estimated to comprise 1,004 individuals in two populations as of 2018. One population lives in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, and the other in the Virunga Mountains in three adjacent national parks, namely Uganda's Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park, and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Great Virunga Trans-boundary Core Secretariat (GVTCS) has revealed that it has set aside money to construct five more tanks neighboring sub-counties of Mgahinga to curb the water scarcity in the area. This was revealed by the Executive Secretary of GVTCS Mr. Sam Mwadha at the commissioning of four water tanks constructed in the sub- counties of Muramba and Nyarusiza in Kisoro district to reduce water scarcity in the villages adjacent to park. The tanks were launched by the Ag.Executive Director UWA Dr. Andrew Seguya on behalf of the secretariat.
The Kabale Chief Magistrate’s Court on July, 30, 2020 sentenced Byamukama Felix to 11 years in prison for killing Rafiki the Silverback of Nkuringo Gorilla group and other wildlife in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Byamukama pleaded guilty to three counts that included illegal entry into the protected area, killing a gorilla and a duiker. The Chief Magistrate His Worship Julius Borere sentenced him to 5, 6, and 5 years respectively to be served concurrently.
In a second case file, Byamukama pleaded guilty to counts of killing a bush pig, being in possession of bush pig and duiker meat for which he was sentenced to 5 years on each count, to run concurrently after serving the first six years on case file one. He will therefore serve a total of 11 years.
Byamukama Felix is a resident of Murole village, Nteko Parish, Nyabwishenya Sub County, Kisoro District and was arrested on June 4, 2020 following the death of Rafaki a Silverback of Nkuringo group. Upon search, he was found in possession of bush pig meat and several hunting devices including a spear, rope snares, wires snares and a dog hunting bell that were recovered from his home. His three colleagues Bampabenda Evarist, Museveni Valence and Mubangizi Yonasi denied the charges and were remanded to Kisoro prisons.
The Executive Director UWA Sam Mwandha welcomed the court’s decision saying 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. If one person kills wildlife, we all lose, therefore we request every person to support our efforts of conserving wildlife for the present and future generations,” he said. Mwandha further explained that the new law (Wildlife Act 2019) is tough and that anyone involved in illegal wildlife activities will face the wrath of the law.
On June 1st, 2020, Rafiki, the silver back of Nkuringo gorilla group was reported missing in the group and on June 2nd, 2020, our team mounted a search for the missing silver back. The body of Rafiki was later found in Hakato area inside BINP.
Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Area (BMCA) - Chief Warden Guma Nelson commissioned a 12-unit accommodation block for staff in Ruhija Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP) on July, 21, 2020. The block has other additional facilities that include 6 kitchen units, 4 bathrooms and 04 water borne toilets. The new unit brings to 75% of the 45 rangers in the sector housed with decent accommodation.
At the unveiling of the new structure, Chief Warden Guma noted that much as the block is not adequate to house all staff, it demonstrates the intent of management to ensure everyone in the sector has comfortable housing facilities. The block is another milestone in the journey of provision of decent housing, improved staff welfare and bolstering productivity levels. “On your part as staff, you are required to use these facilities properly in a manner that whoever comes after you still finds the rooms habitable. Don’t oversleep and relax. We should protect the gorilla groups here both habituated & wild. Protect the integrity of this park. Control crop raids by elephants,” the Chief Warden counselled staff during the handover ceremony. The accommodation rooms are supplied with renewable energy in tandem with the status of the park as a world heritage site.
The Director Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation (ITFC) Dr.Robert Bitariho thanked UWA management for improving the welfare of staff as well as giving Ruhija a face lift as such initiatives are crucial in making developmental progress in society. “The structure is a modern facility with water flush toilets & showers and provides a good image for the sector,” he said.
The Chairman LCIII Byomuhangi Clement thanked BMCA management for the good relationship they have between staff and the community. He noted that the harmonious working relations have enabled progress of Ruhija sector which some years back was said to be a very unreachable place.
Ruhija is one of the four sectors in Bwindi Impemetrable national park where tourists can track the famed mountain gorillas in Uganda. The others include Buhoma where the BINP park headquarters are located, Rushaga and Nkuringo.
The staff of Uganda Wildlife Authority- Bwindi Impenetrable National Park have risen to yet another ecstatic moment of a new baby gorilla with Mucunguzi family coming through on 4th Sept 2020 from Adult Female Ndinkahe. On the other hand, Rushegura gorilla family brought forth a baby from Adult Female Ruterana increasing the family membership to 18 gorillas and two for the group same year!
This takes the tally of new births in Bwindi forest to 5 in just six weeks and fourteen in the year! The new Rushegura baby marks Ruterana's third offspring in the family. Ruterana particularly has not had a smooth tide with keeping her offsprings alive. When she was 12 years, her first offspring born September, 13, 2012 sadly succumbed to Pneumonia while only fortnight old. The other birth in the family came from Kibande on August 27, 2020. Kibande's new baby marks her fifth surviving offspring in group. She is also the most senior lady and kingmaker of the family.
Not long ago in April 2020, Rushaga sector registered birth of two babies in Muyambi and Nshongi gorilla groups. According to the Chief Warden BMCA Guma Nelson, the new babies then were thought to have been born on April 25 and May 1, 2020, respectively. Mother Kabagyenyi and Silverback Bweza of Nshongi were observed by the monitoring team of rangers tightly guarding the baby gorilla while in Muyambi group, silverback Muyambi was often seen on patrol to decisively protect the family’s new entrant. Adult Female Kabagyenyi joined Nshongi family from a wild group when she was a sub-adult. Muyambi group on the other hand is the newest group that opened to tourism in 2019. It has six family members. The unnamed mother joined the group from the wild.
Other gorilla families with babies this year include Katwe group which had a baby on 16th Jan for Ntabwoba Adult Female, Nkuringo family welcomed a birth 22nd May, Busigye family had a baby on 28th July with unnamed Adult Female, Mukiza family group 17th February from Adult Female Bwebisha, while Oruzoogo family was 25th July by mother Katoto and Kahungye 20th Jan with yet to be named Adult Female.
The Executive Director UWA Sam Mwandha Observed that "the birth of new mountain gorillas is testimony to Uganda's successful conservation efforts. With enhanced integrity of protected areas, there has been a general increase in wildlife populations in Uganda," he said.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature classifies the mountain gorilla as an endangered species. Uganda wildlife Authority continues to be committed to conservation and protection of gorillas to ensure that the population increases despite the Covid19 interruptions.