Biblical plague or manageable threat? Repel swarms with Kenya’s locust hunters

The winged invasion

Last year, East Africa was hit by a unique invasion of insatiable desert locusts. Billions of insects poured from the Arabian Peninsula, Somalia and Ethiopia across the border into Kenya.

Commentators likened it to something in the Old Testament – a biblical plague of Abraham, fueled by climate change, and affecting the food supply of a region that is regularly exposed to acute hunger attacks.

Kenya hadn’t seen anything like it since the 1950s, and officials were flat-footed trying to combat swarms about the size of Luxembourg with a handful of airplanes and almost no suitable equipment.

Pilots tasked with spotting the swarms sent their locations back to rely on WhatsApp over poor rural internet connections.

A single swarm of locusts can contain up to 80 million locusts and can fly 30 to 80 miles in a day, depending on the wind. When spray planes arrived at the WhatsApp coordinates the next day, it was often too late.

The locusts had warmed up in the morning sun and moved into the wild to lay millions of eggs. Every day each grasshopper can eat its weight in the vegetation every day and multiplies by twenty times every three months. A crush can easily eat up to 35,000 people in a day and two dozen times in three months.

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