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Tsetse flies repelled by zebra smell

29th June 2010

East African countries are to start making their cattle smell like zebras in order to control the tsetse fly, which transmits sleeping sickness (trypanosomiasis).

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Pastoralists and other East Africans who own many cattle will begin putting collars on the animals that alter their scent.

The European Union recently signed a US$1.8 million deal with East African researchers who developed the collar, aiming to help develop the technology.

The money will ensure that the researchers are able to give the Maasai pastoralists, who will help with trials of the technology, the best possible collar for their cattle.

The repellent involved in making the cattle smell like zebras has already been tested in Kenya and Zimbabwe, where it has worked.

Phyllis Ngunjiri, deputy director for research and development at the Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute, said that areas where people would otherwise use livestock could benefit from the synthetic scents.

Not all of the scents are based on zebra odours, though all of them are based on animals that tsetse flies tend to avoid.

Rajinder K. Saini, a principal scientist at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe), said that his team had decided to look for an alternative to the tsetse fly traps that were being used by pastoralists in Africa.

He said that, since pastoralists were always on the move, he and his colleagues realised that they were leaving the traps behind.

Tsetse flies act as disease vectors for trypanosomes, a type of animal parasite.

Trypanosomes are usually about the size of a red blood cell. Many cause disease, while a few are benign.

Saini said that tsetse flies caused a lot of losses to Africans, including the meat and milk lost when cattle became infected.

Joseph Methu, of the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa, said that his organisation consisted of a network of farmers and researchers, and that he hoped to diffuse information about the technology.

Each year, up to three million cattle die of trypanosomiasis.

 

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