Uganda has its fair share of hosting some of the most dangerous animals in Africa. You should note, however, that most wild animals do not attack people if left alone. While the deadliest animals in Uganda pose a shallow risk to tourists, accidents do happen, and travelers should exercise common sense wherever they are near animals they assume to be harmful.
Hunters and others trying to glamorize their way of life frequently overstate the dangers of wild animals on safari. In reality, most wild animals fear us far more than we fear them. Their typical response to seeing a human is to sprint away as quickly as possible.
Most will only strike out at humans if they are taunted, startled, threatened, or close to starvation or believe you pose a threat to their young ones.
In reality, humans pose a much greater threat to animals than they do to us. Whether through hunting, accidental road-killings, or the degradation of natural habitats and food sources, humans cause the deaths of countless wild animals each year.
Let’s examine which animals are the most dangerous in Uganda’s wilderness.
Hippos are the most dangerous animals on safari; they even feature on the BIG Five list. In Uganda, they occupy the lower reaches of rivers and small lakes and spend the day in the water, emerging at night to feed on short grass swards.
Although they primarily only eat plants—munching on about 80 pounds of grass daily—hippos are among the most aggressive animals on Earth. They can snap a canoe in half with their powerful jaws, killing about 500 people in Africa each year.
The need for caution is greatest near water, particularly around dusk and dawn, when hippos are out grazing.
Although they’re responsible for more human fatalities than other large mammals, hippos are not actively aggressive to humans. Still, they panic easily and tend to mow down any person (or thing) between them and the safety of the water, usually with fatal consequences.
Also, be aware that grazing hippos probably created a path leading through thick vegetation to an aquatic habitat. So there’s a real risk of a head-on confrontation in a confined channel when hippos might be on land at certain times of the day.
Nile crocodiles are more dangerous to locals but represent less of a threat to travelers since they are unlikely to attack outside their aquatic hunting environment. They occupy the Kazinga Channel in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Murchison Falls National Park along various Nile river stretches, and Lakes Albert and Victoria.
In addition to being the most formidable predators to animals that stray into their territory, Nile crocs are also the most dangerous reptiles to humans. It’s wise to keep a meter or so from the shore since a large and hungry individual might occasionally drag in an animal or person from the water’s edge.
It’s very rare to find a large enough Nile crocodile to attack an adult in the vicinity of a human settlement in Uganda. The risk is greater away from communities. However, the rule of thumb is simple: don’t bathe in any potential crocodile habitat unless you have reliable local information that it is safe.
The crocodile population inhabiting the section of the Victoria Nile between the Nile Delta and the Murchison Falls is the most dangerous. Don’t dare swim there!
The Cape Buffalo is the most dangerous animal of the BIG 5 safari game. This giant ox lives in large herds on Uganda’s savanna and protected forests and appears unassuming, calm, and a relatively passive cow-like creature.
Cape buffalo certainly don’t have the big cat carnivorous menacing streak that alerts us to danger. With so much ease, they graze their way through the savannah, their designated pathfinder leading them to pristine waters for lengthy drinking sessions. They’re just herbivore herds casually hoofing it through the savannah.
Because buffalos hardly look like warriors and fearless fighters, safari guides, and travelers often ignore buffalo and go for the most dangerous predators on Uganda safari game drives.
Do not be fooled to think that the buffalo is placid. They play a dangerous game that ensured their place in Africa’s big five, a term coined years ago to categorize the most dangerous game to hunt on foot.
Back in the bygone era, when hunting the big five was a “thing,” cape buffalo killed more safari hunters than any other dangerous animal.
When wounded, they become aggressive and angry. Buffalo would seek revenge on the hunter and remember the encounter the following day. If injured, they would circle their enemy and counter-attack instead of fleeing.
Do not anger a buffalo or cross their path. They will charge instead of fleeing, especially a mother protecting her calf. A wounded buffalo can be lethal. An old bull past its prime is nothing short of insecure, carrying gallons of sexual frustration and grumpiness.
Beware the buffalo. Especially the old bulls that stay in small groups hovering around waterholes.
The world’s largest land mammal and perhaps the most enduring symbol of nature’s grace and fragility is also one of the most dangerous animals in Uganda.
Uganda has two subspecies of the African Elephant. The savanna elephants are found in Murchison Falls, Queen Elizabeth, and Kidepo National Parks. The forest elephants are seen in forested parks like Bwindi and Kibale.
In earnest, elephants almost invariably mock charge and indulge in hair-raising trumpeting before they attack.
Provided that you back off at the first sign of unease, they seldom take further notice of you. If you see elephants before they see you, give them a wide space between them and yourself, bearing that they are most likely to attack if surprised at proximity.
When an animal charges, the safest action people typically do is to head for the nearest tree and climb it. Don’t do it for an elephant. Just back off!
Should an elephant stray close to your campsite or lodge, please suppress any urge to wander closer on foot – it may well aggressively react if surprised!
An elephant is large enough to hurt the occupants of a vehicle, so if it doesn’t want your car to pass, back off and wait until it has crossed the road or moved out.
If an elephant does threaten a vehicle in earnest and backing off isn’t an option, then revving the engine hard will generally dissuade it from pursuing the contest.
Never switch off the engine around elephants until you’re confident they are relaxed. Avoid boxing your car between an elephant and another vehicle (or boxing in another car yourself).
Although feeding monkeys is irresponsible, it may lead to unwanted attraction to your generosity and, ultimately, a scratch or harmful threats. If you are on a wildlife tour where the driver or guide feeds any primate, ask them not to.
Although most monkeys are too small to be more than a nuisance, baboons have killed children and maimed adults with their vicious teeth.
Unless trapped, however, their interest will be food, not people, so in the event of a real confrontation, throw down the food before the baboon gets too close.
Monkeys might well tear the tent down if you leave food (especially fruit) in your tent.
Found in a handful of places, wild chimps and mountain gorillas (not habituated to humans) are potentially dangerous primates. But you are only likely to encounter them on a guided forest walk, where you should always obey your guide’s instructions.
Large wild cats only occupy the big game parks like Queen Elizabeth, Murchison Falls, and Kidepo Valley, where abundant prey exists. Despite their fierce reputation, large wild cats generally avoid humans and are only likely to kill accidentally or in self-defense.
But hyenas— the big cat’s nemesis often associated with human settlements and potentially dangerous — are most likely to slink off into the shadows when disturbed.
Should you encounter any of the big cats on foot, the most important thing you need to know is that running away will almost certainly trigger a ‘chase’ instinct, and it will win the race. Better to stand still and back off very slowly, preferably without making eye contact.
If (and only if) the predator looks menacing, then noisy confrontation is probably a better tactic than fleeing.
Sleeping in a sealed tent practically guarantees your safety in areas where large predators are common. However, don’t sleep with your head sticking out—you will risk being decapitated through predatorial curiosity. And never store meat in the tent.
Some of the most dangerous animals in Uganda are the minor creepy ones. Venomous snakes and scorpions are present but hidden, though you should be wary when picking up the wood or stones under which they often hide.
Snakes generally slither away when they sense the seismic vibrations made by footfall. Nonetheless, be aware that rocky slopes and cliffs are a favored habitat of the slothful puff adder, which may not move off in such circumstances.
Good walking boots protect against the 50% of snakebites below the ankle, and long trousers help deflect bites higher on the leg. But lethal venomous bites are a rarity in Uganda; more people die from food poisoning than creepy snakes.
When all’s said and done, Uganda’s most dangerous non-bipedal creature, and exponentially so, is the malaria-carrying mosquito. Humans, particularly behind a steering wheel, come in a close second!
Mosquitos occur in almost any low-attitude area in Uganda. High in the Rwenzoris and Virungas at 7,000 ft, mosquitos are very rare. It’s only in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park where mosquitos may be non-existent.
Mosquitos are prevalent in savannah parks, near lakes, rivers, and chimpanzee destinations.
Fortunately, everyone in Uganda considers mosquitos the most dangerous, and patrons will put a mosquito net on all beds you hire for a night. Please don’t sleep without a net on your bed unless you are in the Kabale-Kisoro highlands. You can also use a repellent to keep them at bay.