A Ugandan man who killed a rare, endangered mountain gorilla in a national park last month has been sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Rafiki, the 25-year-old silverback's mutilated body was discovered June 1, a day after it was reported missing, with a wound to the abdomen indicating it was attacked with a sharp object. A post-mortem report later said a sharp objected had penetrated Rafiki’s internal organs, causing its death.

Rafiki was the dominant male in the famed Nkuringo gorilla group in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in southwestern Uganda, located along the country's border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. The UNESCO World Heritage site is home to about half of the world’s remaining population of just over 1,000 mountain gorillas. The Nkuringo group had 17 gorillas at the time of Rafiki’s death, according to the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA).

The poacher, Byamukama Felix, was arrested a few days later after a UWA team tracked him to a nearby village. At that time, he was found to be in possession of bush pig meat and several hunting devices. Felix pleaded guilty to killing Rafiki, as well as a bush pig, and hoarding bush pig and antelope meat during a magistrate’s court hearing in the town of Kabale, the UWA said in a statement released Thursday, July 30. Three other men arrested with Felix over the killing of Rafiki remain in custody, awaiting trial.

Felix had previously told authorities that he and the three men entered the protected area to hunt small animals when the gorilla attacked him, forcing him to kill it with a spear in self-defense, CNN reported.

"We are relieved that Rafiki has received justice," Sam Mwandha, UWA executive director, said. "This should serve as an example to other people who kill wildlife."

The UWA said Felix’s current prison sentence falls far short of an anticipated life sentence, which is because he was not tried in a special court, according to BBC.

The mountain gorillas are a popular draw for visitors to the country, helping boost tourism revenue that the UWA relies on. The gorillas in the forest were said to be habituated to human contact, and Rafiki himself was described as popular among the tourists.

The UWA had said earlier this month that the country has seen an uptick in poaching cases during the coronavirus lockdown. Authorities said rangers had discovered at least 367 snares laid by poachers between February and June this year, up from 163 during the same period in 2019, according to Al Jazeera.

Thanks to conservation efforts and anti-poaching patrols, the population of mountain gorillas has grown to more than 1,000 Thanks to conservation efforts and anti-poaching patrols, the population of mountain gorillas has grown to more than 1,000 Photo: AFP / ISAAC KASAMANI