Uganda’s Most Dangerous Animals
The dangers associated with African wild animals are frequently overstated by hunters and others trying to glamorize their way of life. In reality, most wild animals fear us far more than we fear them, and their normal response to seeing a person is to leg it as quickly as possible. While the risk posed to tourists by most dangerous animals is very low, accidents do happen, and common sense should be exercised wherever they are around.
Hippos are the most dangerous animals on Africa safari. The need for caution is greatest near water, particularly around dusk and dawn, when hippos are out grazing. Responsible for more human fatalities than any other large mammal, hippos are not actively aggressive to humans, but they do panic easily and tend to mow down any person that comes between them and the safety of the water, usually with fatal consequences.
Never cross deliberately between a hippo and water, and avoid well-vegetated riverbanks and lakeshores in overcast weather or low light unless you are certain no hippos are present. Be aware, too, that any path leading through thick vegetation to an aquatic hippo habitat was most probably created by grazing hippos, so there’s a real risk of a heads-on confrontation in a confined channel at times of day when hippos might be on land.
Crocodiles are more dangerous to locals but represent less of a threat to travelers, since they are unlikely to attack outside of their aquatic hunting environment. That means you need to swim in crocodile-infested waters to be at appreciable risk, though it’s wise to keep a berth of a metre or so from the shore, since a large and hungry individual might occasionally drag in an animal or person from the water’s edge.
In the vicinity of a human settlement, any crocodile large enough to attack an adult will most likely have been consigned to its maker by its potential prey: The risk is greater away from habitation, but the rule of thumb is simple: don’t bathe in any potential crocodile habitat unless you have reliable local information that it is safe.
There are parts of Uganda where hikers might stumble across an elephant or a buffalo, the most dangerous of Africa’s terrestrial herbivores. Elephants almost invariably mock charge and indulge in some hair-raising trumpeting before they attack in earnest.
Provided that you back off at the first sign of unease, they seldom take further notice of you If you see them before they see you, give them a wide berth, bearing in mind they are most likely to attack if surprised at close proximity.
If an animal charges you, the safest course of action is to head for the nearest tree and climb it. And should an elephant or buffalo stray close to your campsite or lodge, do suppress any urge to wander closer on foot – it may well react aggressively if surprised!
An elephant is large enough to hurt the occupants of a vehicle, so if it doesn’t want your vehicle to pass, back off and wait until it has crossed the road or moved off. Never switch off the engine around elephants until you’re certain they are relaxed, and avoid allowing your car to be boxed in between an elephant and another vehicle (or boxing in another vehicle yourself).
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.
Monkeys, especially vervets and baboons, can be list as most dangerous animals. They can become aggressive where they associate people with food. For this reason, feeding monkeys is highly irresponsible, especially as it may ultimately lead to their being shot as vermin. If you join a guided tour, where the driver or guide feeds any primate, tell him 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 genuine confrontation, throw down the food before the baboon gets too close.
If you leave food (especially fruit) in your tent, monkeys might well tear the tent down. Present only in a handful of African countries, chimps and gorillas are potentially dangerous, but only likely to be encountered on a guided forest walk, where you should obey your guide’s instructions at all times.
Despite their fierce reputation, large predators generally avoid humans and are only likely to kill accidentally or in self-defense. Lions are arguably the exception, though they seldom attack unprovoked. Of the rest, cheetahs represent no threat to adults, leopards seldom attack unless cornered, and hyenas — though often associated with human settlements and potentially dangerous — are most likely to slink off into the shadows when disturbed.
Should you encounter any other most dangerous large predator on foot, the most important thing you need to know is that running away will almost certainly trigger its ‘chase’ instinct and it will win the race. Better to stand still and/or back off very slowly, preferably without making eye contact. If (and only if) the animal looks really menacing, then noisy confrontation is probably a better tactic than fleeing.
In areas where large predators are still reasonably common, sleeping in a sealed tent practically guarantees your safety — but don’t sleep with your head sticking out or you risk being decapitated through predatorial curiosity, and never store meat in the tent.
The Small Creepy Ones
Some of the most dangerous animals are the smaller stuff. Venomous snakes and scorpions are present but unobtrusive, 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, though be aware that rocky slopes and cliffs are a favoured habitat of the slothful puff adder, which may not move off in such circumstances.
Good walking boots protect against the 50% of snakebites that occur below the ankle, and long trousers help deflect bites higher on the leg. But lethal bites are a rarity — in South Africa, which boasts its fair share of venomous snakes, more people are killed by lightning than creepy snakes.
When all’s said and done, Africa’s most dangerous non-bipedal creature, and exponentially so, is the malaria-carrying mosquito. Humans, particularly when behind a steering wheel, come in a close second!