We all love being out in the wild but it’s got to be said… the tsetse fly can certainly affect our enjoyment, particularly in the hotter months when they’re more abundant. 

Tsetse flies look a bit like a horse fly and, with their serrated two-part mouths, can deliver a nasty bite that tends to leave an itchy welt. However, the itchiness doesn’t last too long and can be relieved with off-the-shelf anti-itch or antihistamine creams.

Fortunately we don’t get many tsetse flies in camp (and they’re not around after dark). However, they can be a bit of a nuisance on game drives and bush walks. 

Top tips for managing tsetse flies while on safari

  • Wear long-sleeve shirts and trousers. This will help reduce your chances of being bitten on exposed skin (although you might still feel a bite through clothing, it hopefully won’t be as painful!)
  • Wear light-coloured clothing. Try to avoid black and dark blue, as these are the colours the flies are most attracted to. 
  • Use insect repellent. Even though views are mixed on whether insect repellent deters these flies, it can’t help to try – and it’ll guard against other insects such as mosquitos. Repellent containing Deet is meant to be more effective; we’ve also heard that Avon Skin So Soft works well.
  • Bring antihistamine tablets, cream or other appropriate medication with you, particularly if you’re prone to allergic reactions from insect bites. 

Fortunately, the chances of getting sleeping sickness from tsetse flies is very low these days as the majority of flies don’t carry the disease. In fact, there have only been a very few, sporadic cases reported in the last decade. Control efforts have led to a 97% drop in worldwide cases in the last 20 years. 

Have you heard of the Ruchomechi Tsetse Fly Research Station?

People have spent decades trying to work out how best to manage these critters to reduce the tsetse fly’s transmission of disease. In the early 1900s they even slaughtered wild animals and removed vegetation, and sprayed insecticides over large areas. These techniques obviously had a significant detrimental impact on the environment. 

Thankfully, in the 1980s researchers at the Ruchomechi Tsetse Research Station – which is located ‘next door’ to Kavinga – developed an effective and responsible method. 

The researchers found that tsetse flies are attracted to specific odours and visual stimuli, particularly blue and black colours. Their cost-effective solution involves attaching plastic bottles or sachets containing artificial cattle odour to black and blue targets. The tsetse fly is attracted to the colours, and then lands on panels that have been treated with an insecticide. They die shortly after flying away. 

These traps are widely used in tsetse fly regions across Zimbabwe. 

Given the research station’s proximity to Kavinga, evidence of the researchers’  work can be seen around our concession. This includes old bunkers and even an old railway line (not something you’d expect to see in the wilds of the Zambezi valley!) that were used to better understand and manage the tsetse fly population. 

If you’re interested in finding out more about this history, please mention it to our guides when you next visit us. They’ll be able to tell you more and potentially even show you some of the old research sites, if time allows. 

Five fun fly facts

  1. 30 species of tsetse occur across Africa; only two of these are found in Zimbabwe (glossina mossisans and glossina pallidipes).
  2. The tsetse fly carries a disease called trypanosomiasis if they have a blood meal from an infected host. This disease is called sleeping sickness in humans; in livestock it’s called nagama.
  3. Tsetses mate once during their short four to five month life span. The females can give birth to 16 to 20 larvae.
  4. These flies can pick up movement from up to 200 metres away. 
  5. Unlike house flies, tsetses only have one pair of wings. 
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