You’ve Had an Accident in a Gorilla National Park — What Now?

Article from the series: Staying Safe and Healthy in Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo

Greetings from Mgahinga Gorilla National Park! Once again, Moses Turinawe here, and allow me to share with you some advice on the topic of dealing with accidents and injuries in protected areas of the Gorilla Highlands.

Accidents may certainly vary from park to park, depending on its geographical location, terrain, nature of vegetation and animals found there. In savannah parks, for instance, you may expose yourself if you are doing a nature walk or step out of your vehicle against the rules. You can encounter dangerous wild animals like buffalos and elephants, and then your ranger’s AK-47 will be your best hope. Hopefully not to shoot the beast but to scare it away!

But common accidents go beyond that and include the following: snake bites, falling, insect stings (such as bees, wasps, etc), and motor vehicle accidents. Caution is important to stay safe, and remember, you are on a real adventure!

I work in a mountainous national park, so the conditions are a bit more specific here.

Mountain Gorilla Attacks

Gorillas are generally peaceful creatures, but not always! We have not experienced a client being meaningfully attacked but local people who help track gorillas have on several occasions been injured by charging silverbacks and others. This is common with primate groups still undergoing habituation. Some trackers and rangers have been bitten by gorillas as they try to get nearer, attempting to make the gorillas more comfortable with human presence.

Buffalo Danger

Our staff, pursuing their daily duties in the park, have also been attacked by buffalos, some getting permanent injuries. In 2017, a ranger was attacked by a lone buffalo while he was on a patrol in Mgahinga. He encountered the male on a narrow path and it knocked him down before he could even use the gun he carried. Had it not been his colleagues who rescued him, it would have killed him. They shot over ten rounds in air and the buffalo was scared and left. One of the ranger’s chest bones was broken and he had to be rushed to the hospital for treatment.

Killer Wasps

In 2019, there was an unfortunate incident in Bwindi where a tourist died after being stung by wild wasps during a gorilla tracking activity! He went off the forest trail, to the bush for to ease himself — and accidentally bumped into a wasp nest! They stung him so much that he unfortunately could not survive.

Hiking Injuries

After listing three unusual dangers, let us note a much more common one. Climbing our dormant volcanoes is a major activity here, and you can imagine that things do happen. We have had numerous incidents where tourists missed a step or got injured on slippery trails.

One day, over 20 domestic tourists were hiking Mt Muhavura with its many ladders and stairs. On their way back, after a heavy downpour, a lady was not careful enough on the stairs, and fell, breaking her left arm. A guide and her group members administered some first aid to her, but she was in deep pain. In addition, they were all very tired. A rescue team of porters was called to assist and transport her slowly downhill to the car.

In both Mgahinga and Bwindi National Park, there are traditionally made stretchers, commonly known as “local helicopters” and they are used to rescue victims far away from any roads. These choppers can be really helpful and there are rescue teams trained to handle them.

You Are With Experienced Professionals

There is no reason to be worried or filled with fear. The accidents I listed are very rare. Whatever you do in a park, you are never alone! It is mandatory to have rangers and armed escorts with you at all times, ensuring your safety. They are equipped with first aid kits which contain some basic equipment such bandages and pain killers — but you are always encouraged to pack yours too.

I would also propose the following:
· Get appropriate insurance coverage before going to do any activity in a national park to help you cover costs in case of accidents or injury.
· Obtain some basic training in administering first aid to help any fellow visitor as soon as possible.
· Always adhere to the instructions of the ranger guide during any tour in the national parks.
· Take a walking stick while on hiking and other hectic activities, as it provides you with something to lean on during slippery stretches and supports you while climbing stairs.
· Hire porters who will be able to assist you, like giving you an extra hand on slippery spots.

Enjoy the sights, sounds and amazing animals, but do stay safe!

photos by Marcus Westberg