SAN DIEGO (KGTV) A local conservation group came dangerously close to running into the armed kidnappers who snatched a California tourist and her guide while on safari in Uganda.
Kim Endicott and her driver were abducted at gunpoint from the Queen Elizabeth National Park across the border from Congo on April 2.
They were released over the weekend. Details of the negotiated release have not been made public.
Bill Toone is the director and founder of Ecolife Conservation in Escondido. He and several other members were leaving the park just as Endicott's group was arriving. Their guides stopped to talk. Endicott's group left and returned to their lodge. They returned to the park roughly four hours later. That's when they were ambushed.
"I'm a little surprised that it ended as positively as it did. It could have obviously been really awful, and I kind of thought it might be, so it's thrilling that she's out of there," said Toone.
Among other things, Ecolife Conservation provides safe, fuel efficient stoves for homes in remote areas of the world.
The group has been working in Uganda for seven years. Toone said he's never felt unsafe. He was shocked to learn of the kidnappings.
"First of all, it's low season there and so there are very few tourists around anyway, so I guess that is why we became a target, it made it a little simpler, or she became a target," said Toone.
Toone said in the days that followed the kidnapping; his group was required to have armed guards. He says the Ugandan government has been misleading on this issue.
"They say it's required to have armed guards when you go in the park. We've been going to the park for seven years. Every entrance to the park is through a gate where there are wildlife officials who check your vehicle in, they know who is in the vehicles, they check the licenses of the guides, never in all the years that we've gone there has anyone even suggested that you bring an armed guard. They've been saying she should have had a guard, that is not our experience at all," said Toone.
Toone hopes things return to normal soon.
"The repercussions could be enormous. Uganda depends very heavily on tourism dollars. That's their incentive to do the kind of conservation they do there for the wildlife," said Toone who reiterated that the kidnappings are an isolated event.
"We have to keep it in perspective that this was one person in a country that actually has a really wonderful record for safety. "