Four mountain gorillas, one of whom was pregnant, have been killed by a lightning strike in Uganda.
The three adult females, along with a male infant, were found with ‘gross legions’ in the country’s Mgahinga National Park following a severe storm.
Mountain gorillas are an endangered species, with just over 1,000 currently in existence. The Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration (GVTC) called the deaths a ‘big loss for the species’.
The four gorillas were believed to be part of the Hirwa family, made up of 17 members who had crossed to Uganda’s Mgahinga national park on August 28, 2019 from Volcanoes national park in Rwanda. Thankfully, the 13 surviving members of the family were later found safe and sound.
Following their death, GVTC led a team accompanied by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and Gorilla Doctors to assess the cause of death – due to the ‘gross legions’, the cause of death was likely electrocution by lightning.
Andrew Seguya, executive secretary of the GVTC, told the BBC:
‘This was extremely sad. The potential of the three females for their contribution to the population was immense.’
The GVTC added in a statement:
‘Confirmation of the cause of death will be issued after a histopathology laboratory exam of the collected samples, which is expected to take 2-3 weeks.’
The Hirwa family is one of a number of gorilla groups within the Virunga massif ecosystem, made up of Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda.
While the death of the four gorillas is a huge blow, the species had been removed from the ‘critically endangered’ list in 2018 following intensive conservation efforts.