This month we remember and honour Rafiki, the legendary Silverback who led the Nkuringo family of mountain gorillas and was tragically killed in June 2020.

This month, we remember and honour Rafiki, the legendary Silverback who led the Nkuringo family of mountain gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP). Rafiki (meaning ‘friend’ in Swahili) was a calm, gentle and strong leader of his troop, much loved by rangers, trackers and visitors for his amiable, playful and welcoming presence in the forest. His death in June 2020 by the spear of a poacher was a shocking blow to wildlife conservationists and the local communities living in and around this region.

Rafiki, leader of the Nkuringo Family

The Nkuringo troop was the first mountain gorilla family to be habituated in the southern part of the BINP in 1997, opening up this area to the beneficial effects of mountain gorilla eco-tourism. Rafiki became the family’s sole protector around 2008, and as its only silverback, his death cast uncertainty over the future of this troop’s existence. Without his leadership, the group was left unstable and disjointed, with the possibility of members flocking to join other groups and the family disintegrating entirely.

Leo on his first visit to Uganda in 2020

In February 2020, Leo visited Uganda to observe The Gorilla Organization’s community-led conservation projects. It was on this trip that he first embarked on a trek into the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP) with Emmanuel, one of the very knowledgeable and cheerful guides of the region, hoping to catch a glimpse of the majestic mountain gorillas, the gentle and mighty creatures that have inspired and driven the heart of That Gorilla Brand from its inception. This adventure was a dream come true; catching much more than just a glimpse, Leo and Emmanuel were lucky enough to encounter the Nkuringo mountain gorilla family, and the relationship between That Gorilla Brand and that specific family was born.
Three months later, back home in Athens, Leo learned the devastating news that Rafiki had died at the hands of a poacher hunting for wild meat in the forest. Rafiki had been fatally stabbed with a large spear. As the only silverback in the family, Rafiki’s death caused concern that the Nkuringo troop would disperse and eventually dissolve. Usually, in the wild, when the dominant silverback dies and there is no other silverback to take its place, the family can feel directionless and vulnerable, prompting individual gorillas to scatter, either wandering into the forest as loners or joining other families.

Thankfully, the group remained intact with the help of increased park patrols and daily monitoring by park rangers. Although its numbers diminished, with a few leaving to join other groups, Rafiki’s death inadvertently brought new life. A few months after Rafiki’s death, his baby with the pregnant female, Nderemara, was born. Rafiki Junior was named in memory of his father and carries on the iconic silverback’s legacy.

Rafiki Junior, named in honor of his father

In January of this year, 2023, Leo returned to Uganda to fulfil his sixth fundraising challenge, an ultra marathon around Lake Mutanda with local community members running alongside him, to raise money for That Gorilla Brand’s Bwindi Community Water Projects. To thank his crew who had accompanied him throughout his arduous run, Leo organised a new trek with Peace, another dedicated guide. Again, the experience proved exhilarating. Trekking through the thick vegetation, the team came upon their old friends, the Nkuringo family. The group was now led by Rafiki’s brother, Rwamutwe, who was just a blackback at the time of Rafiki’s death but had confidently assumed the group’s leadership when Rafiki was taken from them.

Ramutwe, brother of Rafiki

With the help of their other brother, Tabu, who also became a second Silverback, Rwamutwe has taken care of the group and ensured its safety and well-being ever since. Leo and the whole team were overjoyed to see the family thriving with their new silverback leader.
At That Gorilla Brand, we aim to protect the mountain gorilla population by improving the health and living conditions of the human populations who live around the BINP through community-led conservation initiatives such as our own Bwindi Community Projects. These projects provide access to clean water, healthy sanitation in schools, and solar energy. Through our alliance with The Gorilla Organization, we support their education programmes for training villagers and former hunters in agricultural and beekeeping skills. Empowering the inhabitants of the local communities with ways to earn an income for themselves and their families helps to keep human-wildlife conflict to a minimum.



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