Insects and the Botswana Wilderness

Red dragon fly. Michael PolizaRed dragon fly
The pristine wilderness areas of Botswana could have been part of history had it not been for the prevalence of deadly insects such as Tsetse Fly in the past.

The Colonial Pressure on Wilderness

The wildlife of Africa came under severe pressure from agricultural practices during the days of the colonial expansion. Vast tracts of land were cleared of bush and game to make way for stock and crop farming. Because of the dangers predators posed to domestic stock and the concern over diseases such as anthrax and rinderpest the game was wiped out by the settlers.

The clearing of wildlife and bushveld would have been complete was it not for two small insects, the Mosquito and the Tsetse Fly. The Mosquito carried malaria to humans and the Tsetse Fly carried sleeping sickness to humans and nagana to cattle. As there was not a cure for either at the time the areas where they occurred, or could not be eradicated from, were left undisturbed. Attempts were made to clear out the wildlife and burn the bush in these areas but this proved too much.

How Insects Saved the Rhino

The White Rhino was saved by the occurrence of malaria and sleeping sickness in Zululand in South Africa. The population had been hunted to around 40 individuals, and they would have been wiped out had it not been for the occurrence of malaria and sleeping sickness in their last stronghold. Conservation measures were put in place to protect the remaining individuals and the whole White Rhino population in southern Africa today owes its existence to this conservation.

Tsetse Fly and the Okavango Delta

Many areas in Africa owe their continued existence as wilderness areas to the Mosquito and the Tsetse Fly. The Okavango Delta in Botswana is one such area. In a country where cattle ranching is big business, the floodplains of the Okavango were looked upon as prime grazing land, but with the twin dangers of malaria and sleeping sickness the cattle were kept out. An attempt was made to clear the area of Tsetse Fly but the value as a tourist destination had already been realized and the Okavango Delta was saved.

In the 1950's Albert Schweitzer the great physician stated that by the year 2000 malaria would be part of history. Not only has the incidents of malaria increased but the virus has mutated, adapting to all medicines used to control it. Malaria is still the biggest killer in Africa each year with more than two million succumbing to the virus. Sleeping sickness has been brought under control in most areas except for some very remote regions and war torn areas where aid cannot get through.
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