Plague of scorpions hits Kalahari town

Residents of the remote Kalahari desert town of Groot Mier in the Northern Cape are being plagued by scores of scorpions on the crawl.

“Only Saturday I killed about eight,” lifelong and oldest resident Piet Snyder (74) said on Wednesday. These days he sits at night at the door to his house, ready to step on the stinging visitors as soon as they call, lured by the lights of the house.

“You have to be alert the whole time, as they are fast little animals,” he said.

“We are used to scorpions here, especially during stormy weather.
I use to say they get ‘friendly’ then and start visiting us in our homes. But this year it is much worse than usual.”

As the nearest clinic is 45 kilometres away at Rietfontein and few of the residents own cars, there are several home remedies they apply before taking a stung patient to the clinic.

“Now see, the first thing to do, is to tie it off above the sting mark (to stem the flow of poison in the bloodstream). Then you cut on the place and you apply a counter-poison.”

Snyder prescribed either petrol or a mixture of grounded black coffee, salt and saliva. “Raw meat also works well,” he said.

To keep the scorpions away, he advised that one should not move with a light around the house at night.

Snyder said several dogs had been killed by scorpion stings over the past few months. Residents also believe a scorpion sting led to the death of a five-year-old boy shortly before Christmas, although the clinic nurses say the cause of his death has not yet been confirmed.

Sister Magrietha Vilander at the Rietfontein clinic said an exceptionally high number of scorpion sting patients were sent to the hospital in Upington since November.

“Every time the wind comes up, you know the scorpions are getting busy.”

Symptoms of a scorpion sting include a prickly feeling, starting in the area where the patient was stung and spreading to the rest of the body, affected speech, thirst and excessive secretions, Vilander said.

Leon Lotz, arachnologist of the national museum in Bloemfontein, said it was usually difficult to determine a specific reason for such a population explosion.

“It can be triggered by good rains, but such explosions occur from time to time without a specific reason.” - Sapa

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