TICKS, TICKS, TICKS!

Hello there livestock farmers!

This week I want to talk about ticks. This is an important topic in Zimbabwe today because of the unprecedented cattle losses that have happened around the country in 2017-2018 from tick-borne diseases, particularly Theileriosis or January Disease.

Because Zimbabwe is found in the Tropics, our climate is perfectly suited for the survival of many fauna and flora. Unfortunately, some of this fauna like the tsetse-fly, horsefly, midges, mosquitoes and arthropods (ticks, mites etc) are parasitic to our our animals. They also transmit diseases, so they are called disease-vectors. Examples include the tsetse fly which transmits trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), ticks (which transmit Gall Sickness, Red Water, January Disease, Heart Water).

Ticks can be found all over the country. However different types of ticks are acclimatized (adapted) to different ecological environments. Different types of ticks also transmit different tick-borne diseases (TBDs). Therefore it is theoretically possible to map out areas where we expect to come across particular TBDs. However in practice this is becoming difficult, for reasons explained later.

Ticks are of economic importance to livestock farmers. Apart from them being vectors to important TBDs as earlier mentioned, ticks also cause problems in other ways. They suck blood. This results in anaemia and weakness, especially in young animals. They also cause what is termed “tick worry”. They are a nuisance to an animal, and cause distress just by their presence on an animal’s body. This affects an animal’s eating habits for example. Ticks also damage hides and skins. They predispose to wounds and abscesses, which can result in secondary bacterial infections.

In the next instalment on this topic, I will talk about the types of ticks found in Zimbabwe and their spacial/geographic distribution. I will also discuss what this spacial distribution means in terms of TBDs distribution.

Map of ago-ecological zones of Zimbabwe. Courtesy of the European Soil Data Centre.

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