Zebra may hold the key to curbing sleeping sickness

By Mercy Imali

Zebras, may just be the answer to reducing the spread of sleeping sickness aka African trypanosomosis disease)

To be more precise, the odours found in their skin can boost the management of the deadly and devastating sleeping sickness transmitted by tsetse flies to people and livestock. This is according to a study conducted by the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) and University of Pretoria, South Africa.

Tsetse flies are found only in Africa and are a major headache in agricultural production.  Previous synthetic controls are expensive and have proven harmful to people, livestock and the environment.

Olabimpe Olaide, a Nigerian scholar who conducted the study as part of her PhD research at icipe said,

“Previous research has shown that tsetse flies avoid, and hardly bite zebras, even though zebras are commonly present in areas infested by the flies. Until now, the reason for this evasion has been unclear, with speculations that the zebras’ striped skin is a contributing factor. However, the zebra stripes are only visible to tsetse flies at about 5-10 metres. Beyond this distance, zebras appear uniformly grey to the flies. The study established that zebras produce certain scents that repel tsetse flies. We also found that a blend of three of these odours enhances the effectiveness of existing tsetse management tools, including the icipe tsetse repellent collar technology and NGU traps.”

The researchers are working towards creating an integrated novel strategy to manage tsetse flies. The findings are a boost to calls for wildlife conservation as Zebras could just be the key to human survival.