The Kruger National Park is recognised as the largest national park in South Africa, currently spanning more than 2,000,000 hectares of diverse wilderness. Recently celebrating more than 130 years in conservation, the region has been through many transitional changes and varied challenges. As we see global virus outbreaks making headlines, it raises questions about safe international travel. Not immune, one hundred years ago, the Kruger Park had its own virus outbreak, all thanks to a large biting insect called the tsetste fly. Still today, many guests searching for an authentic African safari inquire about the dangers of contracting nagana [or sleeping sickness] should they visit the Kruger National Park or Jock Safari Lodge.
Pronounced SEET-see, TSEET-see or TSET-see, many also know them as tik-tik flies. They feed on the blood of animals, mainly cattle, and are known for their capacity to transmit disease. They have plagued farmers and livestock for centuries and Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, the famous pioneer and author who wrote ‘Jock of The Bushveld’ – and after whom Jock Safari Lodge is named – also lost his entire cattle livestock in the 1800s.
WILL I ENCOUNTER TSETSE FLIES AT JOCK SAFARI LODGE?
The short answer is No. Regular checks are done and to date, still no tsetse flies have been detected in the Kruger National Park.
Tsetse flies have been absent in Kruger since the early 1900’s having died out after the Rinderpest epidemic [cattle plague] was accidentally introduced in 1887. Rinderpest caused massive devastation over huge stretches of the country, destroying both domestic bovines and indigenous antelope. Around two-and-a-half million cattle died in South Africa alone!
As cattle herds died, famine moved in resulting in a human population decline. Thorny bush replaced ideal grazing pastures and wild animals repopulated the area once again. Such an unbelievable abundance of game attracted hunters who plundered stock and species for sport, meat, ivory and by-products, almost unhindered. By the 1850’s game numbers had declined to such an extent that laws to protect what remained were seen as essential. In 1889 Parliament laid down principles for the establishment of game reserves and concessions – like Jock – where the hunting of wild animals was prohibited. This also ensured that the land was now protected and could not be reused for cattle farming. The tsetse fly population stagnated as the wildlife occupying Kruger were already used to parasites and had adapted accordingly, which ultimately ensured the disease died out.
WHAT HAPPENS IF BITTEN BY A TSETSE FLY?
In cattle, once bitten, single-celled trypanosomes penetrate the bloodstream ultimately creating sleeping sickness and death. For humans, it’s a painful disease that disrupts sleep and can be fatal if not treated. A bite often develops into a red sore with symptoms of fever, severe headache, irritability, swollen lymph nodes, aching muscles and joints and extreme fatigue, with some even developing a skin rash.
HOW TO RECOGNISE A TSETSE FLY
Tsetse flies have two features that make them easy to spot. The first is that they fold their wings when they are resting – one wing rests directly on top of the other over their abdomen. The second is their long proboscis [or ‘nose’] which extends forward and which is attached by a distinct bulb at the bottom of their heads.
BUT WHAT ABOUT MALARIA?
Thankfully malaria is considered a low-risk problem in Kruger especially during the South African winter months [April to September]. There are ways travellers can pre-empt being bitten. It is recommended that anyone travelling between October and April [during the rainy season] take malaria prophylaxis. During the day there is no risk of being infected as the malaria mosquito is only active during the night. While there are many mosquito species in the Kruger only one, the female Anopheles mosquito, is able to transmit the Plasmodium pathogen – and the probability of actually being stung is 1 in 24 000. Despite the low risk, 10% of all malaria cases are caused because tourists did not take any precautionary measures. See here for more on malaria symptoms and ways to protect yourself.
ENJOY A LOW-RISK SAFARI ADVENTURE AT JOCK SAFARI LODGE
Today, looking at the low risk of disease and the abundance of game, not just in the largest protected national park in South Africa but also on the 6,000-hectare Jock concession, the tsetse fly ultimately changed history for the better. Conservationists refer to the tsetse fly as being “the best game warden in Africa” as it has ensured that 2 million hectares of pristine wilderness still remain untamed, untouched and truly unforgettable.
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