Ugandan authorities on Wednesday launched an extensive rescue operation for an American woman and her driver who were kidnapped at Uganda’s most popular wildlife park.
Kimberley Sue Endecott, 35, and Ugandan driver Jean Paul were on a game drive in Queen Elizabeth National Park when four gunmen ambushed their vehicle on Tuesday evening, a police statement said.
The statement added that an elite unit of the Tourism Police had been dispatched to actively pursue the kidnappers and succesfully recover the victims.
“The joint security teams have cut off all exit areas on the border between Uganda and the DRC in search of the victims,” the statement added, warning the group may still be in the park.
Police said the kidnapping appeared financially motivated, since the group quickly made a demand of $500,000 (Shs1.9b) using Endecott’s mobile.
The police was quick to reassure any tourists planning to visit the national park, saying the kidnapping was an isolated case. ‘‘Strengthened safety measures have been put in place for both the local residents and visitors.’‘
The park, Uganda’s most visited, is located about 400 km (250 miles) southwest of the capital Kampala, near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which is home to many fragmented rebel groups.
The Somali Islamist militant group al Shabaab has carried out attacks in Uganda in the past, but has never been known to kidnap anyone for ransom there.
In 1999, an American couple, four Britons and two New Zealanders were killed along with four Ugandan guides when their group was ambushed by gunmen in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Survivors said the killers appeared to be Congo-based Hutu rebels.
Bwindi begins about 20 km (12 miles) south of Queen Elizabeth National Park, where tourists flock to see lions, hippos, crocodiles, chimpanzees and other African wildlife in an area of lakes, savannah, forests and swamps.
Tourism is a key industry for Uganda, as a major earner of foreign currency. Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit each year. Uganda is home to over half of the world’s endangered mountain gorillas.