Tsetse flies are widespread in Africa. They feed on blood and are the source of the dreaded sleeping sickness, an infection that can be lethal, damages the nervous system and, in its final stage, causes a dozy state, which gave the disease its name. Sleeping sickness is a real danger for people in tropical Africa, but tsetse flies can also transfer the disease to cattle. This leads to huge losses in milk, meat and manpower. The damage caused by the flies in Africa is estimated to be nearly $5 billion a year.
Tiny ticks are a big problem. Anyone taking a walk in the woods is advised to do a tick check. Ticks infect more than 325,000 people with Lyme disease each year, and this number continues to rise.
When we think of vultures, we picture big, ugly birds circling over a carcass in the desert. They are a stereotypical harbinger of death. But in many parts of the world, vultures are in danger of disappearing. Our knee-jerk reaction might well be “good riddance”, but as is the case for pretty much all participants in ecosystems, vultures have an important role to play. And when they aren’t around to play that role, bad things can happen.