A wildlife encounter to remember
So many people when they talk of wildlife encounters are going to recite lyrically about being moved to tears when they started into the eyes of an African elephants, how some bird from some exotic sounding location with some thesaourus wonder wording on its silly looking mating dance and plumage fireworks. Yes, fine, nature is an incredible thing; I’m a big fan.
Photo: James Jordon
Its wonderful hugging pandas and bursting through the bushel, beholding shafts of light that descend from the heavens onto some fluffy whoseywhatsit that no one else bar you and a few other intrepid world travellers have ever gotten to see.
But I can promise you now nothing will ever give you more awe, more respect and more brevity for nature than an animal that no one actually pays good money to willing encounter. I have had more run-ins with this creature than I care to mention, and say what you want about other animals, but this little feisty nocturnal devil-creature should have more traction in the encounters department because I have yet to find someone that has not travelled and not had a story about them to tell.
I’m talking about the Mosquito.
They are more dangerous than a spitting cobra, more annoying than a morning crowing chicken and can drive you to madness and in some areas death. Sure, they are not endangered, and you’d much rather be swatting them with the back end of your shoe than having to wriggle up to one in its natural habitat to take pictures.
The mighty species of Anopheles gambiae has the ability to decimate nations, to kill us with a single slurp and not even blink twice (because they cant blink, they have no eye lids.) The awful disease that they carry, malaria, infects some 247 million people worldwide each year, killing around one million that are unlucky enough to not have access to treatment. Having inhabited the earth for more than 100 million years and live on almost every continent and habitat. Of the 3,500 named species of mosquito, only a couple of hundred bite or bother humans but those couple spread yellow fever, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis, Rift Valley fever, Chikungunya virus and West Nile virus. If they actually do happen to disappear the ecosystems where they are active will hiccup and then get on with life, but something better or far worse potentially could take over. We might want nothing more from them other than to buggar off, but boy do they make the precursor for the most dramatic travel stories.
I should know. I have the scars scattered in small white constellations across my arms to prove I too have had a brush with death. Small, annoying, itchy and deadly they are the one wildlife encounter that will stay with you forever. They force you to experience a world beyond air conditioning, palm fringed beaches and sunset cocktails. They will forever alter the way you travel, and you cant’ say that about a panda now can you?
All areas: Zambia, Gabon, Uganda, Togo, Sudan, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, CAR, Liberia , Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritania, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe , Djibouti, DRC, Ivory Coast,Congo, Comoros isalnds , Ghana, Gambia, Guinea , Eritrea , Equatorial Guinea.
South Africa: Low altitude areas of the Mpumalanga Province, Northern Province, and northeastern KwaZulu-Natal as far south as the Tugela River, Kruger National Park.
Zimbabwe: all areas except Harare and Bulawayo
Tunisia: Only imported cases
Tanzania: All areas at altitudes lower than 1,800 meters
Swaziland: Risk in lowelands
Kenya: All areas at altitudes lower than 2,500 meters; no risk in Nairobi
Namibia: Only northern parts- provinces of Kunene, Ohangwena, Okavango, Caprivi, Omaheke, Omusati, Oshana, Oshikoto, and Otjozondjupa.
Morocco: Limited to rural areas of Khouribga Province
Mauritius: rural areas only
Chad: Mainly southern parts and Sudan
Egypt: in El Fayoum Oasis area
Ethipoia: border areas with Somalia and Djibouti and the city of Addis Ababa
How Malaria works:
You are out on your holiday, drinking a sundowner and suddenly get zapped by a mozzie that is carrying the particular strain of malarial parasite (some strains are stronger than others.) After about 7 days you wake up in the middle of the night with uncomfortable chills, even though it is very hot and humid outside. You might even start having sweats with a slight upset stomach. The next morning you actually feel surprisingly fine, all the chills and fevers you felt the night before have petty much gone, you still feel tired and ‘flat’ in a way, but it does not seem as bad. The next night, as your red blood cells burst and release more parasites that have been incubating into the blood stream, all the symptoms return ten fold, and voila- you potentially have malaria.
Headaches (like being hit in the head with a cricket bat) , inexplicable fevers that disappear after 8-12 hours and then
re-appear again, Chills, Flue-like feelings, aches in your joints, drowsiness, some instances vomiting and upset stomach.
Two kinds of malaria, P. vivax and P. ovale, can occur again (relapsing malaria). In P. vivax and P. ovale infections, some parasites can remain dormant in the liver for several months up to about 4 years after a person is bitten by an infected mosquito. When these parasites come out of hibernation and begin invading red blood cells ("relapse"), you become sick.
Having travelled a lot in different areas where malaria is a definite risk we often get asked the question; “so what do you do to prevent malaria?” We are not medical professionals and by no means must you take this advice to be the ne all and end all of you not getting malaria. The reason it works for us is because we are incredibly cautious and take every sniffle, fever and upset stomach very, very seriously.
-Use malaria chemoprophylaxis which you can easily pick up from your local travel clinic. Doxycycline and Mefloquine are the two most popular. Be warned that anti malarial’s will make you incredibly sensitive to the sun and in some instances produce vivid nightmares.
-If you are on a diving holiday check you will be able to dive on your particular brand of anti malarial.
-Get some malaria test kits. You can find these at local travel clinics or in certain pharmacies. In most countries on the African continent we have very easily been able to go to a local pharmacy and get hold of a few test kits. We also always travel with coartem, which we start taking the minute we hit a positive test. You can pick them up cheaply in most local pharmacies outside of South Africa, but make sure you do not get generic copies of this drug, or the ones that comes as a once off treatment as they can be ineffective.
-Know the symptoms. Even on anti-malarial’s you still run the chance of getting malaria, it is not full proof. We have had friends who have been taking incredibly expensive malaria tablets and still come down with malaria on their return to their home countries. If you feel, even in the slightest, one of the symptoms, take the finger prick test. Take it again in 12 hours even if it is negative. And if you still don’t feel right get your butt to a doctor (tell them you have been to malaria area) and do a blood test or a more effective prick test to completely make sure.
-So many people end up with the deadly forms of malaria because they brush off the initial symptoms as being “flu-like”. Both my husband and I have had malaria many times now (due to the nature of our work) but that does not mean we get over paranoid and isolate ourselves at the first sign of a sniffle. Millions of people easily travel, work and play in high-risk areas every day, but they know their symptoms and dismiss nothing.
-Sleep under the mosquito net with a fan on, no matter how hot it is.
-Cover up. Cover up everything. Wear long dresses/skirts that touch the ground or long pants that are made of strong cotton so the mosquito can’t get that painful little bite through your clothing. If it is too humid and hot, make sure any exposed skin is lathered with anti mosquito lotion. You can never use enough.
-When you get back from your holiday make sure you pay close attention to your body for 7-12 days which is the incubation period for the malaria virus. After 7-12 days if you have not show any symptoms, you are technically in the clear.
-Start stocking up on products that contain DEET. I know I might get into trouble by some for saying this next bit, but this is from years of testing and trying. Those bracelets with funny little buttons on them, citronella lotion, catnip and lavender are all lovely non-chemical options but so far in all my travels I have only ever met one person who had hand crafted an effective natural anti mosquito spray. And that’s all well and good, but she had an intimate knowledge of herbs, and everyone else who didn’t was left covered in itchy bites from day one. Everyone can have a different skin reaction to different oils and chemicals, but so far I have never left home without my trusty container of Tabard, and for the very heavy-duty areas, Bushmans. Malaria is a very serious, if you don’t know exactly what you are doing are you prepared to risk it?