Last week, an American tourist Kimberly Sue Endicott and her driver/ tour guide Jean Paul Mirenge were kidnapped by unknown persons in Queen Elizabeth National Park. This incident has generated debate in the public regarding the safety of our wildlife protected areas.
This isolated incident is unfortunate and regrettable. In addition to Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) rangers, Queen Elizabeth National Park contains multiple security forces including Uganda Peoples Defence Force and Police, especially tourism police, that work together to protect our tourists in a very rare case that they are faced with danger. The safety of our visitors is a first priority. Over the years these protected areas have been known for their safety for visitors and this has not changed. Visitors enjoy wildlife viewing, nature walks and other activities and return home safely to strongly recommend Uganda as the must visit destination to their friends and families.
We have no doubt that this kidnapping is a one off, isolated incident, regrettable and unfortunate as it is. We have rangers who protect our visitors not only against dangerous wildlife but also from illegal entrants into the wildlife protected areas. While these persons are very few, our national parks are big, Queen Elizabeth National Park alone is 1,978km² in size encompassing several public roads going through the park and a number of fishing villages inside the park. This makes the park porous as there is human activity on a 24-hour basis. We have been able to protect our visitors over the years because of our deliberate efforts of recruiting, training and equipping rangers with the necessary capacity to ensure the safety of our visitors.
Last year the President passed out 488 rangers to bolster the existing ranger forces to provide adequate security in our national parks. This additional manpower has further strengthened our ability to ensure that our visitors are safe. This incident has acted as a wake up call for us to even further strengthen the already existing security measures especially the foot patrols in protected areas.
We appreciate the security agencies that participated in the operation that saw the two captives rescued safely. We are a peaceful country, we are a welcoming people, the irresistible natural beauty of Uganda continues to attract visitors to come and experience our rich heritage that is comparable to none. Last year alone we registered over 300,000 visitors into the protected areas we manage. We are a blessed country, the Pearl of Africa and gifted by nature!
With a recorded 18,783 species of flora and fauna, Uganda ranks among the top ten most biodiversity rich countries globally. Uganda is host to a bigger population of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas, 11% of the world’s recorded species of birds (which is 50% of Africa’s bird species richness), 8% of the global mammal diversity (which is 39% of Africa’s mammal richness), 19% of Africa’s amphibian species richness, 14% of Africa’s reptile species richness and 1,249 recorded species of butterflies. The rich wildlife endowment makes Uganda distinct from the rest of the countries and a preferred tourists’ destination. It is therefore no wonder that CNN has placed Uganda among the 23 of the world’s best hiking trails being the only sub-Saharan African country to feature on the global list. We have over the years witnessed an increase in the number of visitors to our national parks. This impressive performance is partly attributed to a documented and demonstrated record of safety for our visitors.
We shall continue to work with all stakeholders including the private sector tourism operators to strengthen our already existing security measures in the national parks to avoid a repeat of such an incident in the future. We appeal for calm and want to assure the general public that security agencies are following important leads to hunt down the perpetrators of this unfortunate and regrettable incident so that they are brought to book.