What is a fly to a giraffe?
It’s difficult to imagine a single insect even coming to the attention of these peculiar animals, which weigh in at thousands of pounds and routinely stretch their necks to heights of more than 14 feet. In Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park, however, Michael B. Brown, a wildlife conservation researcher, has noticed something that might be harder to ignore: Whole clouds of insects swarming around the necks of these quadrupedal giants.
Under ordinary circumstances, such irritants might be unexceptional. But a growing body of evidence suggests that those flies might be linked to a more serious problem, a skin disease that seems to be spreading through giraffe populations across the continent. It sometimes takes the shape of holes in the animals’ flesh, circles of dead tissue, altogether distinct from the animals’ distinctive spots.