Maramagambo Forest is an extensive rain forest which is part of Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP) in the far west of Uganda. There are numerous small caves like Bats Cave and Hunters Cave. Bat Cave is home to hundreds of fruit bats and pythons, which are often observed in the crevices of the cave floor, using the bats as a source of food. The caves are visited on guided tours to the park, under the general theme of biodiverity.
Maramagambo means ‘the end of words’ in the local language, and is based on a local legend. ‘ A group of people was lost in the forest, and needed many days to find out. When they returned they could not speak for a long time because of their exhaustion. Therefore they became “lost of words” and that is the meaning of the word Maramagambo.
In July 2008 the caves at Maramagambo Forest became world infamous, after a tourist from the Netherlands died after returning from a journey to Uganda. She was – obviously on her Africa journey – infected with the extremely dangerous Marburg virus, a deadly disease similar to Ebola, which causes hemorrhagic fever and bleeding. As she had visited the caves, the bats were immediatley accused to be responsible. But this was an isolated case, during ten years of tourism in the area nothing similar happened before, and three other tourists who visited the cave with her were not infected. But as long as the source of the infection is not identified the park authorities decided to close the caves, just in case.
The reason why bats are held responsible for outbreaks of Marburg is the fact that according to ongoing ecological studies about 5% of the fruit bats in Kitaka mines in Kamwenge district show evidence of prior Marburg virus infestation. In August 2007 three gold miners were infected and one of them died. Subsequently the mine was closed and no further infections have been reported. The common conclusion is, that bats in western Uganda are a reservoir for the Marburg virus. However, so far the natural reservoirs for both Marburg and Ebola diseases are unknown. And most likely the bats are not responsible, as there are millions of bats which fly all night, with lots of occasional interaction between bats and humans. If they would spread the disease, there would be an epidemic in the country.