The government has put in place concerted efforts to eradicate tsetse flies, a pest that transmits a disease that devastates livestock in Shimba Hills National Reserve in Kwale County.
According to research done by Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council (KENTTEC), the population of tsetse flies has increased to alarming levels thus the need to put in place an integrated control campaign to eradicate the blood sucking flies.
Tsetse flies are known to be affecting certain species of wildlife which are key components of wildlife tourism.
Tsetse, sometimes spelled tzetze and also known as tik-tik flies, are large biting flies that inhabit much of tropical Africa.
Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council is a State corporation under the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries, and Co-operative’s gazette in 2012 by the government as a successor to the Pan -African Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Campaign (PATTEC).
The council is mandated to coordinate eradication of tsetse fly in the country, set standards, and mitigate the socio-economic constraints brought by the tsetse infection.
In some parts of Africa, the fly also causes cases of human ‘sleeping sickness’ which affects the central nervous system, causing disorientation, personality changes, slurred speech, seizures, difficulty walking and talking, and ultimately death.
Speaking to the press at Shimba Hills National Reserve during monitoring of the tsetse fly research, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council Dr Pamela Olet, said the increase in tsetse flies in the park was alarming to wildlife and farmers in Kwale County.
Dr Oleti added that wildlife species such as black rhinos in the park were highly affected by tsetse flies, consequently endangering the species.
“We lose a lot of money because our wildlife which is attractive to global tourists is slowly becoming extinct and that’s the reason the government is coming up with plans to address this problem,” Dr Olet said.
She noted that the wildlife reserve area is also home to the tsetse fly, which transmits trypanosomosis which is often a disease that reduces fertility, weight gain, meat and milk production in animals like cattle.
The CEO noted that farmers in the coastal county were experiencing huge losses because the wildlife reserve acts as a breeding area and curbing the destructive insects would improve livestock and crop production in the coastal county.
“Tsetse flies have diverse effects ranging from crop and livestock production, wildlife tourism, and public health. The economy of the coastal county depends on livestock and crop production and if the tsetse flies are not controlled then the sources of livelihoods by these communities shall be affected leading to extreme poverty,” Dr Olet said.
The monitoring report showed that an average of a hundred flies were trapped in a single tsetse fly trap within forty-eight hours hence showing the gravity of the danger to the coastal economy.
Dr Olet disclosed that the problem has been neglected by the county government in its policy formulation thus calling for responses from the devolved units as the tsetse fly is known to decimate livestock.
“We want to see the county government setting a budget for tsetse fly eradication programmes because this problem is viewed as microscopic but it’s affecting the economy. Farmers are incurring losses every season since their animals cannot meet international standards,” Dr Olet said.
Dr Olet said her institution is working with different stakeholders to ensure they raise the needed Sh1.2 billion for the countrywide eradication project.
She said the corporation is receiving around Sh250 million from the national government thus slowing down concerted efforts to effectively handle the problem.
“The eradication process is very expensive and more money is needed to make the country a tsetse free like Namibia and Botswana. One litre of octanol (fatty alcohol) costs close to Sh7, 000 and that is the reason for the mobilization of resources,” Dr Olet said.
She said in Kenya, the tsetse flies have affected thirty-eight counties, especially those that experience higher temperatures leading to extreme poverty.
She warned that the problem would escalate to all forty-seven counties following the effects of climate change that threatens the globe.
Dr Olet said her organization has managed to eradicate tsetse flies in Meru Rhino Sanctuary, Lake Victoria Region, Mwea Game Reserve, and Maasai Mara National Reserve leading to an increase in revenue generation.
The CEO called for a regional approach saying all member states in the East African Region should work together to simultaneously eradicate the problem.
“These flies are not static. When they starve in certain areas, they migrate and that is the reason for the collaboration with our neighbours in the East African region. We want to be like Botswana which totally eradicated tsetse flies in their country and now they are known to be the leading livestock producer,” Dr Oleti noted.
Coast Region Coordinator for Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council Johana Cheptoo, said the region is highly infected by tsetse flies, especially in conservation areas such as Gongoni Forest, Shimba Hills National reserve among others.
Cheptoo said the institution is responding to a cry from the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) on the instability of the wildlife population in the Shimba Hills National Reserve.
He further stated that once the conservation centres were freed from the grip of tsetse flies it would increase crop and livestock production.
Principal Scientist for Marine and Coast Research Center Dr Mohamed Omar, applauded the Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council for the support towards eradicating tsetse flies in the national reserves.
Dr Omar said there was a need to safeguard the Shimba Hills National Reserve which is a remnant coastal forest that has the most diverse tree species nationally and could attract many tourists across the globe.
“We want to make Shimba Hills National Reserve the most scenic park across the coastal region so that communities around the reserve could benefit and improve their livelihoods,” Dr Omar said.
He disclosed that the eradication exercise shall commence by next week and over 300 traps shall be set across the reserve.
By Raymond Zaka and Hussein Abdullahi