Celebrating Rafiki – Uganda’s Legendary Silverback

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Gorilla lovers around the world are mourning the death of Rafiki, a 25-year-old silverback that was killed by poachers in June at Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

 

According to Peter Mbwebwe, tourism warden at Bwindi, Rafiki was believed to be around 25 years old at the time of his death and was the leader of a family of 11 mountain gorillas.

Naming of gorillas in Uganda is done a few months after birth and is usually determined by various factors like behavior, geographical features around its place of birth, noteworthy events or even from famous friends and partners of conservation.

Bestowed when he was about six months old, Rafiki means “friend” in Swahili. Following his death, Adventure Consults staff members asked Mbwebwe why he received that name. Apparently, the young gorilla was friendly, cheeky and welcoming to both his family members (other gorillas) as well as rangers, trackers and visitors right from the infant stage. Adventure Consults guests and other travelers who have visited the Nkuringo family group shared the sentiment.  

Four men suspected of Rafiki’s murder have been arrested. If found guilty, they face the possibility of a life sentence or heavy fine as per Uganda’s Wildlife Protection Act passed in 2019. Investigations showed that Rafiki was killed by a sharp object that penetrated his internal organs. “One of the suspects admitted that he, and three others, had been hunting smaller animals in the park and that he killed Rafiki in self-defence when he was attacked,” says Bashir Hangi, communication manager of the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA).

Peter Mbwebwe told the Adventure Consults team that the Nkuringo family how has 10 members including three black backs (adult males that have a chance to become silverbacks), three adult females, two juveniles and three infants.

Just like human beings, gorillas have one family leader that’s given full respect by other members. The good news is that the Nkuringo family already has a new leader, a black back named Tabu, who will likely become the group’s permanent patriarch. By the way, Tabu is a Swahili word meaning “trouble.” Lwamutwe is one another strong silverback; he seems to be second in command and might challenge Tabu.

Trackers and rangers are closely monitoring the group and confirm that, after the COVID-19 primate lockdown, the Nkuringo family can be visited just like the other habituated groups in Uganda’s Bwindi & Mgahinga national parks and Rwanda’s Parc des Volcans.  

The Nkuringo group initially had 17 members. However, there was a dispute between with the neighboring Christmas family that resulted in three females, two juveniles and an infant being abducted and blended into the latter family.

You might ask yourself: Why would gorilla families feud with the other? According to Adventure Consults guide Eric Ndorere, fights are always led/initiated by silverbacks, in most cases because they want to expand their family. If the attacking silverback wins the battle, he normally abducts females as the spoils of his victory.

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