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  • Writer's pictureTyrone McKeith

The Tsetse Fly Question

If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me about tsetse flies, I’d be a rich man!

Today, I want to clear up some misconceptions and share the truth about these pesky creatures you might encounter on safari in Zambia, especially in the Kafue region (where this topic gets a lot of attention!).

First, let’s acknowledge that tsetse flies do exist, but they're not exclusive to Zambia. Many safari destinations have them, even if you don't realize it when you book. It’s all about the PR!

Yes, the bite of a tsetse fly is itchy (similar to a horsefly bite for those in the Northern Hemisphere). However, from my experience, if you can ignore the itch for a few minutes (and resist the urge to apply cream or use that electric zapper!), the itch subsides, and most people have no ill effects. But here's the key: even one scratch can turn into days of itching. Be strong, persevere, and wait a minute!

Personally, I find mosquito bites far itchier, longer-lasting, and redder than tsetse fly bites. Fortunately, mosquito bites are rare during a dry-season safari in Zambia.

So, what factors influence tsetse fly encounters on your safari?

  1. Location and Habitat: Tsetse flies are more numerous in certain areas, particularly in Miombo and Mopane woodlands on clay soils.

  2. Temperature: Their activity is influenced by temperature, being most active between 18 and 35 degrees Celsius.

  3. Game Density: Higher game densities often mean fewer tsetse flies.

  4. Movement and Dust: Tsetse flies are attracted to movement and dust, which is why they follow cars but are less present in camps, on boats, or on walks.

  5. Wind: Wind can effectively eliminate their presence.

If you’re visiting an area with tsetse flies in the region, here are some tips to minimize encounters:

  • Spend less time in Miombo woodlands during the hot part of the day, especially far from water in the hot season (Sept/Oct/Nov).

  • Opt for areas with higher game densities and cooler parts of the day in winter months (June/July/Aug).

Additional pointers:

  • Walking and boating more than driving reduces tsetse fly encounters.

  • Searching for wild dog dens or herds of sable antelope means you'll be in tsetse territory.

  • All-day game drives, especially during hotter hours, increase the likelihood of encountering tsetse flies.

  • Tsetse fly presence can vary daily, even on the same route.

  • Avoid flapping your arms and clothes—they attract tsetse flies.

  • Wear long sleeves and pants, and avoid billowy clothes where they can hide.

  • Choose closed shoes over sandals to prevent bites between your toes.

  • While neutral bush colors (greens and tans) are best, there's not a significant difference in clothing color.

  • There’s no need for a bug-suit unless you’re a hardcore wildlife enthusiast spending all day in peak tsetse fly habitat.

At our camps specifically:

  • Musekese Camp: The habitat here means tsetse flies are far less common compared to other parts of Kafue. We’ve also set up over 100 tsetse fly targets that have significantly reduced their numbers.

  • Ntemwa-Busanga Camp: There are no tsetse flies on the plains! However, they can be more prevalent along the treeline edge.

Lastly, please remember that we have been successfully operating safaris in these areas for decades and this would not be possible if the negative impacts of the tsetse fly were as bad as the rhetoric is around them.

It is in our interest as camp owners and safari guides to minimise the impact the tsetse fly will have on each and every visitor. You will see here I have been honest and open but in reality if we never said the word ‘tsetse’ to someone before they came to our camps then the majority of guests would come and go without knowing any the wiser…


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