Malaria is a serious health problem in Africa. It’s estimated that 90% of the one million worldwide malaria deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. The 247 million cases of malaria reported each year result in lost-productivity and suffering, especially in young children.
Two popular solutions to alleviating malaria are pesticides and bed nets. These two methods raise some questions related to safety and effectiveness. The long term effects of pesticides on the health of people who have been exposed to spraying could be devastating. Mosquitoes can also develop resistance to pesticides over time. Bed nets are a good idea, but unfortunately are impractical in many cases. Mosquitoes primarily feed during the dusk hours. This would generally be 7:00pm to 10:00pm in sub-Saharan Africa. It would be difficult to find an African child sleeping at that time. Many children would be doing chores, schoolwork, or simply playing with other children. Families commonly have the evening meal around 10:00pm before retiring for the night. The use of a bed net also assumes that a child sleeps in the same place every night where a bed net can be suspended from above.
Mosquitoes that cause malaria made me think about one of my childhood memories. I remember being fascinated by flying creatures that would emerge at dusk in my neighborhood. These flying creatures were bats. My father taught me that bats were good because they ate a lot of pests, including mosquitoes. Many people even put up bat houses in their yards to encourage bats to live in the neighborhood.
The bats that live in most parts of sub-Saharan Africa are fruit bats. They eat fruit and nectar from flowers. Insectivorous bats are not found in sub-Saharan Africa. They eat insects, including mosquitoes. A single bat of some species can consume up to 1,000 mosquitoes in an hour. I would like to know if utilizing natural predators for mosquito control in Africa ever been thoroughly researched or studied. I would never want to introduce an animal species to an environment that would damage or endanger the native ecosystem.
Bat Conservation International, is devoted to the conservation, education, and research initiatives involving bats and the ecosystems they serve. The organization is based in Austin, Texas USA. Merlin Tuttle is the Founder and President Emeritus of Bat Conservation International. He wrote an enlightening article about the effectiveness of using insectivorous bats as a means of mosquito control.
Although no single approach to mosquito control is appropriate for all locations, encouraging natural predators should be an important element in long-term planning wherever possible. Anything that can be done to encourage predation from aquatic insects, fish, or bats may be important in reducing mosquito numbers.
This is a video that shows a colony of bats that live under the Congress Street bridge in Austin, Texas USA. Approximately one million bats emerge everyday at dusk to hunt for food. This amazing sight attracts tourists and curiosity seekers from all over the world.
I hope that a sustainable and natural solution like bats could possibly reduce the incidents of malaria and be more effective than the pesticides and bed nets that are currently being promoted.
Note: This is dedicated to the memory of Talitha Ochoa and her family.