2 November 2007

Uganda: Be Careful Around Them

Kampala — Jack Twerebera, a tour guide at Queen Elizabeth National Park narrowly escaped death when one morning, on his way to work, he encountered a lion.

"When I saw it," he narrated excitedly, "I began to move backwards. It had its eyes fixed on me. What saved me was the presence of several water bucks which sped off and the lion chased after them." Jack was lucky, because just a short while before that, a lioness had attacked three villagers working by the roadside, killing one and badly injuring the others.

Jack went on to narrate an incident at the park where a ranger was attacked by a buffalo, which drove its horns through his back. That ranger was hospitalised for a while. Other rangers present had to shoot the buffalo on the spot, to save their colleague from death.

Employees of the Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park had harrowing tales to tell. "I was chased by two buffalos and I had to climb up a tree and stay there for 30 minutes," said the manager, only identified as Chris, "then I sneaked out of the tree and dashed back to the camp. Several hours later, my colleagues found the buffaloes waiting under the tree, thinking that I was still there!"

Chris and his workmates often spot huge cobras in a tree above their makeshift kitchen.

They hear leopards growling outside their tents at night and hippos quite often sneak from the riverbanks and approach tents in the camping sites.

"We have guards who protect the tourists' tents at night," said one employee. "If the hippos get too close, they have to shoot in the air to scare them away."

Tour guides at Queen Elizabeth, Murchison falls, and the Ishasha sector all revealed that hippos quite often kill people.

"At Kibale forest national park, we had to keep several metres away from the chimps, lest they became aggressive. The red colobus monkeys are very aggressive,' said Sophie Kansiime, a tour guide at the Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary in Kibale Forest national park, when we encountered several colobus monkeys in the trees by the road side.

"They once attacked an old man here, when he was passing by on his bicycle. They beat him up so badly that he had to be hospitalised for a couple of days. If you throw a stone at them, they will grab that stone and throw it back at you.

"If you attack one of them, they will attack you in a mob of up to 50 monkeys!"she said.

In January 2004, officials of the Jane Goodall Institute in Uganda told the BBC's Wildlife Magazine, that chimpanzees had killed eight children and injured many others in Ugandan national parks.

Debby Cox, the director of the institute, explained that the aggressive behavior of the chimps was caused by their proximity to humans. But Dr Michael Gavin, who carried out the study reported on by Wildlife Magazine, disagreed, arguing that the chimps killed people because they were hungry.

In March 2002, the BBC reported that the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) had begun an operation to cull predatory crocodiles in Lake Victoria that had attacked and killed more than 40 people in the past seven months. They said crocodile attacks were fairly common in East Africa.

Moses Mapesa of UWA explained that the crocodile attacks were caused by increasing human contact with the reptiles and that older crocodiles that have been slowed by age attack humans, who are slower and easier to catch than fish.

According to the National Geographic documentary Elephant Rage, some 500 people are killed by elephants each year.

Joyce Poole, who has been living in Kenya for over 30 years and Petter Granli run the Savanna Elephant Vocalization Project (SEVP), based in Norway and Kenya. "I have always believed that these are elephants that have suffered some severe trauma at the hands of man," she said of elephants that have killed humans.

Poole and her colleagues suggest that some animals may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder much like humans. George W. Frame and Lory Herbison Frame, in their journal article The Dangerous Hippo, in Science Digest, LXXVI (November, 1974), consider the hippo, to be the most dangerous animal in Africa. Each year more people are killed by hippos than by all the other animals put together.

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