Deceiving tsetse flies with waterbuck ‘perfume’

Researchers may have found a solution to keep tsetse flies away – a perfume collar that deters the fly with the scent of the waterbuck.

A team of researchers from the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe), the Interafrican Bureau for Animal Resources, the Centre for Development Research of the University of Bonne and the Rothamsted Research at Harpenden have come up with a cost-effective solution to keep tsetse flies away from cattle to prevent the animals from getting ill from nagana, or animal sleeping sickness.

Tsetse flies are the carriers of the Trypanosomiasmis protozoa, the parasite that causes sleeping sickness in both cattle and humans. According to estimates, the African continent loses about US$4,6 billion per year due to losses in milk, meat and manpower due to the disease.

The waterbuck antelope has developed a way to keep these insects at bay and it seems that tsetse flies are repelled by their smell. Scientists used this knowledge to design a collar that emits the waterbucks’ odour to keep the blood sucking insects from targeting cattle.

To come up with the collar, the scientists first identified and isolated the repellents of the waterbucks’ scent to synthesise the substance in a laboratory. They then filled plastic containers, tied to a collar, with small amounts of the repellent. After the collar was tied to the cows, the cows exhaled the odour to keep the tsetse flies at bay. Picture: R.K. Saini


The scientists then provided 120 Maasai pastoralists in Kenya with these collars over a two-year period to test the collar.

They found that the 80% less of the cattle herds that carried the collar was infected with the disease, compared to cattle that did not carry the collar.

“In general, the animals with the protective collar were healthier, heavier, gave more milk, ploughed more land and achieved significantly higher sales in regional markets,” the University of Bonn noted in a press release.

According to the leading scientist dr. Christian Borgemeister, the collar is also a cheaper and more economical option than the conventional methods and medicines used to treat and prevent the disease. The collar also seems to be a popular option for the pastoralists.

“This method, successfully tested in practice, represents a significant advance for the food security of many pastoralists and cattle farmers in Africa.”

According to dr. Rajinder Kumar Saini, one of the researchers of the study, farmers won’t have to wait too long before they can buy their own collars.

“It is expected that the PEST CONTROL & PRODUCTS BOARD (PCPB) of Kenya will register these compounds by end of this year and then they will be available. They have already undertaken an independent trial which confirms our results and hence registration is in the pipeline.”

Waterbuck Kobus ellipsiprymnus defassa Rüppel (Bovidae). Picture: R.K. Saini

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