A massive search-and-rescue effort was underway Wednesday in Uganda after an American tourist and a local guide were ambushed and kidnapped by four armed men demanding a $500,000 ransom, Ugandan police said.
The attack took place Tuesday in the Queen Elizabeth National Park, a sprawling wildlife refuge more than 200 miles west of the capital Kampala.
Police spokeswoman Polly Namaye said the 35-year-old American woman, an elderly couple and their driver were halted at gunpoint in their safari vehicle. The couple were left behind and contacted the camp manager, who rescued them, Namaye said in a statement. The kidnappers, using the victim’s phone, demanded the ransom.
“We strongly believe this ransom is the reason behind the kidnap,” the statement said.
The U.S. Embassy in Kampala was informed, Namaye said. A State Department spokeswoman said only that U.S. officials were aware of the kidnapping report and the response by Ugandan security forces.
Namaye said authorities set up roadblocks and cut off the border between Uganda and the Congo in the area. Ugandan security forces, police and game wildlife officers collaborated in the manhunt.
“We strongly believe the perpetrators and victims could still be trapped within our search area,” the statement said. “We are hopeful that our efforts will lead to their successful recovery.”
The park, in western Uganda, is about 750 square miles of savannah and tropical forest. It sits between two lakes at the base of the Rwenzori Mountains and is home to buffalo, hippopotamuses, crocodiles, elephants, leopards, lions and chimpanzees.
“We want to further reassure the public that this is the first incident of this kind,” the statement said. “Those planning to visit the National Park and its surroundings should not be discouraged. Strengthened safety measures have been put in place for both the local residents and visitors.”
In 1994, eight tourists, including an American couple, were hacked or bludgeoned to death in the Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest by a band or rebels armed with rifles, machetes and spears, according to The New York Times. Four Ugandan park employees were also slain in the campsites.
The killers were were ethnic Hutu rebels, according to the State Department and survivors.
Uganda is a landlocked, economically challenged nation of 43 million people. The CIA “Factbook” for Uganda credits Yoweri Museveni, president since 1986, with bringing relative political stability and economic growth.