Ticks on Safari
What are ticks?
Ticks belong to the subclass Acari which is in turn a part of the class Arachnida. They have been around for some time, with fossils found that date back to the Cretaceous period, 66 million years ago. They are further loosely classified into two groups – hard and soft ticks.
All ticks rely on blood for their survival and they are not picky about where they get it from, making themselves at home on mammals, birds and reptiles. Although tick bites can (sometimes) be painful and itchy, ticks are harmless in themselves.
The Trouble with Ticks
It is when they dine on infected blood that they can become the unwitting carriers of some serious diseases. The most common of these are tick bite fever, biliary and West Nile virus, although they are capable of transmitting at least 10 other ailments.
During your travels in the bush, you will notice large amounts of ticks coasting along attached to our wild animals. Buffalo are their favourite host, although they are not always easily visible on the dark hides of these bovines. While outbreaks of tick-borne diseases do occur from time to time among wild animals, fortunately, most species have developed a degree of resistance to these.
Ticks and the Environment
Wherever you find ticks you usually find their mortal enemy – the oxpecker. These birds are often seen hitching a ride on the backs of our wild animals or clambering unhindered all over their faces. This is due to an 'arrangement' between the animals whereby the birds can feed off of these pesky parasites directly from their host. The birds get an easy meal, and the animals get a thorough grooming in return – mutual symbiosis at its finest.
Ticks are an important source of food for these and many other birds, reptiles and amphibians, and thus fulfil a key role at the bottom of the food chain. Ironically, it is when they dine on those at the top of the food chain that they can cause problems.
Avoiding TicksWhile you are unlikely to come into contact with ticks during your South African safari, it is possible that they could latch onto you while walking in long grass.
Always wear long pants if you do participate in any guided walks and check yourself thoroughly for any unwanted passengers afterwards. Using a tick-repellent cream or spray can also prove effective to ensure you enjoy your safari without having to sweat the small stuff.