On June 17th, 2011, Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) staff in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park discovered the mountain gorilla named Mizano in the Habinyanja family group dead. Initial reports are that the gorilla was speared by the poachers who were in the forest targeting small antelopes. A necropsy has since been performed and the specific circumstances surrounding the death are yet to be released by UWA.
Stephen Asuma, International Gorilla Conservation Programme’s Country Representative in Uganda reports that community leaders and government agencies are participating actively in the ongoing investigation. “Everyone is very concerned about this incident, which is a testimony to the value that local communities and government alike place on these animals,” he said. There have been unconfirmed reports of an arrest made regarding this incident, but confirmation and details are currently not available.
“It is important for us to first find out exactly what happened. Was this killing accidental in self protection or intentional? Once we know what happened, we can better identify what actions we need to take to prevent this from happening again,” said Asuma.
This incident happened in the Bujengwe area, Kayonza Sub County, Kanungu District. Meetings between UWA and local leaders, community members and district officials have been happening with the objective of stepping up vigilance towards poaching and other illegal activities.
The Habinyanja group was one of the first groups to be habituated in the Buhoma area. “While there are several programs to share revenue from mountain gorilla tourism with communities around protected areas, we still have poaching for small antelopes happening in the park. The community near where this incident happened has not been specifically targeted for tourism development and the sensitization and direct benefits that comes with it,” said Asuma. “We will continue to work with communities and UWA to find win-win situations for conservation of mountain gorillas and communities.”
This is not the first mountain gorilla to die at the hands of people, whether by accident or intention. In 2009, a mountain gorilla was accidentally killed while it was outside of the park by a woman who threw a stone in an attempt to chase the mountain gorilla back into the forest. And in the early 1990s, four mountain gorillas were killed at the hands of poachers on the Ruhija side of the park. In 2002, a plotted attempt at poaching was thwarted when concerned community members informed UWA in advance.
Meanwhile, the recent death of Mizano leaves the Habinyanja goup with 16 individuals and without any other black backs. The Uganda Wildlife Authority is coordinating the release of any additional information, which IGCP will pass on as a comment to this post on the IGCP blog: www.igcp.org/blog/.
The International Gorilla Conservation Programme is a coalition of the African Wildlife Foundation, Fauna & Flora International, and the World Wide Fund for Nature. A complete census of the population of mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park will be conducted in September and October of 2011.