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Mosquitoes and Tsetse Flies in the Serengeti

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Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park is a major destination for safari tourists, wildlife photographers, and animal conservations and enthusiasts. Each year, over 350,000 visitors enter the park each year to view the thousands of animals that inhabit the parks plains, rivers and kopjes. 

The Serengeti is located in northern Tanzania, west of Mount Kilimanjaro, east of Lake Victoria, and bordering Kenya. Being in East Africa, many visitors are aware of the dangers of mosquito-borne diseases, particularly malaria. Although Tanzania requires yellow fever vaccinations for visitors entering from endemic countries (Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Chad, DRC, etc), this is primarily to keep yellow fever out of Tanzania. Each year, there are fewer than 100 deaths from yellow fever in the entire country and the CDC does not recommend getting the vaccine if you are only traveling to Tanzania. However, malaria is still an issue in Tanzania, though to a far lesser degree than in previous years.

If visiting during the end of the dry seasons (the months of September/October and February) visitors may find far fewer mosquitoes than they may have expected. If visiting during the months following the long and short wet seasons (June/July and December), they may encounter far more mosquitoes due to the abundance of stagnant water throughout the park. Regardless of the time of year, it is highly recommended that all visitors use an insect repellent and take anti-malarial medication. The two most common medications are malarone and doxycycline, both of which can be obtained with a prescription from a doctor.

Mosquitoes are found in much larger populations in the woodland areas of the Seronera region and the northern Serengeti. The populations are much smaller in the plains of the southern Serengeti. In addition to mosquitoes, visitors are also likely to encounter tsetse flies. I find tsetse flies to be far more painful and prevalent than mosquitoes. Although tsetse flies are much larger than mosquitoes, they are equally difficult to detect and they can even bite through close-fitting cotton shirts. Tsetse flies are also the primary vector for the disease, trypanosomiasis, also known as African Sleeping Sickness.

Although the likelihood of being infected with malaria or trypanosomiasis is very low, the tsetse flies and mosquitoes can be enough of a nuisance to necessitate special preparation to have a comfortable safari experience. Wearing insect repellent and long-sleeved clothing is the best form of protection, in my opinion. Both mosquitoes and tsetse flies are attracted to dark colors, so wearing light colors such as beige, white, or light blue clothing is recommended. If your clothing is lightweight, I would recommend taking another lightweight shirt in case you encounter tsetse flies. Again, tsetse flies have no problem biting through thin clothing, so doubling your layers will help prevent this.

For your face, a head net is the best recommendation. You do not want to put DEET-based repellent on your face. If the mosquitoes and tsetse flies are really prevalent, I would wear a head net until you get to an area where they are less prevalent because no one wants to have a bright red mosquito bite on their face in their safari photos!

If you are staying in the lodges or tented camps around or in the Tanzanian national parks, you probably do not need to worry about bringing netting with you. As far as I know, all of the good lodges and permanent camps have bed nets. However, if you are camping at a public camp site, it is really important that you have a tent with very good bug screens. Personally, I use the IBNS tent at the public camp sites. You should definitely wear insect repellent any time that you are outside of the tent during sunrise or sunset. It is very likely that there will be many mosquitoes in the immediate area due to the number of people at the camp site.

I hope that this blog post has answered your questions or fears about traveling in the Serengeti and I hope that you have an excellent trip! It is an amazing experience. If you have any additional questions, feel free to contact us