In the battle against the parasite-spreading vector, the tsetse fly, the Ethiopian government plans to unleash drones in parts of the country to protect livestock and people against the brutal disease carrier.

Trypanosoma brucei parasites/CDC
Trypanosoma brucei parasites/CDC

UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems), or drone manufacturer, Embention, in collaboration with the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) begin the first phase of “Drones Against Tsetse” project to control the plague in Ethiopia.

The project is an initiative to control African trypanosomiasis, transmitted by tsetse flies, it is commonly known as the sleeping sickness. Achieving this through the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) applied with drones. This technique permits to reduce flies population by releasing sterile flies. Sterile flies are released near indigenous populations, these sterile males mate with wild females, thus reducing the offspring and the population of the new generation. To perform an effective procedure, about 100 sterile tsetse flies are released weekly by square kilometer.

According to the Awramba Times, the irradiation program is nothing new in Ethiopia. The country has been doing it manually for years, using teams in airplanes to drop boxes of the flies into the targeted areas.

Related: Senegal Makes Great Progress In Battle Against Tse Tse Fly Using Sterile Insect Technique

Embention says the F300 fixed wing drone which is used has an autonomy for 2 hours flight with a 2Kg payload and a cruise speed of 72 km/h. Sterile Tsetse flies are autonomously released when reaching the control area, with the drone flying at an altitude of 300 meters above the vegetation, following preconfigured routes on its avionics system, Veronte Autopilot, and in its control software, Veronte Pipe. These routes are designed according to the information previously collected from tsetse flies habitants, with the help of MAXENT distribution prediction models, and satellite images from MODIS.

With the purpose of not damaging the sterile tsetse flies during the flight, they are cooled, reducing their activity. Then they are housed in biodegradable boxes, which are encapsulated in special pods that maintain the temperature and permits to manage the controlled release during the flight. About 5000 Tsetse flies can be released on each flight over an area of 100 km2.