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January 20, 2019

Nairobi Park Diary: A tick safari

Guinea fowl help lions by reducing ticks
Guinea fowl help lions by reducing ticks

Sometimes there are times when I look for really small things. I found a lioness lying next to the road. She was infested with many ticks.

For a moment I tried to imagine life from the viewpoint of a tick. Waiting on blades of grass for their hosts to pass by and give them a “lift” so they could have their safari journey for “suck”-cess as they feed on the host. Ticks often repeat the act of attaching to various hosts as they travel around during their ‘safari” life cyle, as they grow from nymph to adult stage to achieve their “suck”-cess.

Interestingly there are about 900 different types of ticks in nature. They are small arachnids and are therefore not insects but are related to spiders, as they also have eight legs. Ticks are external parasites, living by hematophagy on the blood of mammals, birds, and sometimes reptiles and amphibians. Ticks carry  a number of diseases, including African tick-bite fever, tick-borne relapsing feverbabesiosis and tick paralysis.

Microbiological pathogens can cause serious disease, especially in a weakened host, and can even result in death. One recorded case is the death of the famous lioness “Elsa”, who died in the Meru National Park after fighting with other lions, and then having a weakening immunity became infected with tickbite fever due to not having resistance to the babesia leo parasite.

Interestingly various bird species play an important role in controlling tick populations, especially guinea fowl and ox-peckers. So apart from the many more obvious threats facing large predators like lions, they also need to have strong auto-immune systems to survive in the wild against disease bearing micro pathogens.

When we look for the smallest we often see the largest, from ticks to lions.





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