Epizootics Beyond the Farm: Historical and Ethnographic Approaches

The third annual conference of The Global War Against the Rat and the Epistemic Emergence of Zoonosis project. Funded by the Wellcome Trust

15th -16th June 2023 (online)

Registration is free. To register please contact: [email protected] by May 22 2023.

Epidemics among non-human animals, in other words, epizootics, have been the concern of veterinary medicine since the end of the eighteenth century. Positioned at a pivot of the entanglement between farming and medicine, historians have shown how “cattle plagues” as well as diseases of horses played a key role in the development of veterinary science. Historians and anthropologists of herding in colonial and postcolonial contexts have also shown how epizootics in domesticated animals have played significant roles in the entanglement of the governance of human and nonhuman life in the Global South. Finally, the bourgeoning interest in emerging infectious diseases and disease spillovers from animals to humans has led to renewed attention to animal health. Nonetheless, the hegemony of the One Health agenda – which more often than not applies concepts and analytical frameworks developed with respect to domesticated animals to the full range of animal life – and its adoption in the medical humanities and social sciences risks leading to distortions of both the historical and the ethnographic record of epizootics. Indeed, epizootics beyond their locus par excellence, the farm, and farmed animals, have been disproportionally underexplored by historians and anthropologists.

This conference asks how our understanding of and approaches to epizootics may be transformed if we focused on epizootics beyond the farm and its epistemic, socioeconomic and political contours. By focusing instead on epizootics unfolding in cities, zoos, prairies, ships, homes, forests, ports, wetlands, warehouses, natural reserves, and deserts, the conference aims to explore the variety of non-human animals, and human/non-human relations involved in epizootics, as well as the complexity of the new knowledge and medical practices that emerged in those places. Steering away from and challenging the domesticated/wild dichotomy, but taking it ethnographically seriously, we are interested in exploring how a focus on epizootics in places and situations where veterinary medicine and other forms of medical and vernacular knowledge interacted, can unsettle, trouble and advance our understanding of the ways in which animal and human health have become interlinked in different historical and ethnographic contexts.


Christos Lynteris (University of St Andrews)

Matheus Alves Duarte da Silva (University of St Andrews)

Epizootics Beyond the Farm: Historical and Ethnographic Approached

Convenors: Christos Lynteris and Matheus Alves Duarte da Silva

Thu 15 June 2023
10:30-11:00Welcome and introduction
11:00-12:30Panel 1: Epizootics and Global Health | Chair: Oliver French (University of St Andrews)

Qualifying Risky Poultry: Live Bird Markets, Epizootics and Food Distrust in China and Indonesia | Lyle Fearnley (Singapore University of Technology and Design)

Epizootics, Ethnography, and the Unseen Zoo | Alex Mullan (University of Roehampton)

How Avian Flu Became Endemic: History and Anthropology of a Global Mobilization | Frédéric Keck (CNRS/EHESS/Collège de France)

Discussant: Marianna Szczygielska (Institute of Ethnology of the Czech Academy of Sciences)
12:30-13:30Lunch Break Social
13:30-15:00Panel 2: Epizootics and Veterinary Science | Chair: Jules Skotnes-Brown (University of St Andrews)

Agrovets and More-Than-Veterinarian Animal Sickness in Western Kenya | Hannah Brown (Durham University)

Corporate Negligence? Re-examining the Foot and Mouth Disease Outbreaks at Nuanetsi Ranch, in Colonial Zimbabwe, 1933-34 | Wesley Mwatwara (Walter Sisulu University)

The Killing of the Mares and the “Hips Malady”: Horses, Doctors, and Epizootics in the Amazon (1885-1941) | Matheus Henrique Pereira da Silva (Federal University of São Carlos) and Bruno Silva Santos (University of St Andrews)

Discussant: Karen Sayer (Leeds Trinity University)
15:00-15:15Coffee break
15:15-16:30Panel 3: Rat Trouble | Chair: Bruno Silva Santos (University of St Andrews)

The Complexities of Land Ownership and Use in the Kilombero Wetland, Tanzania and its Implications for Rat Control | Caroline Mburu (University of St Andrews)

Pets and Pests: Troubled Stories Between Humans and Rats | Jean Segata (Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul)

Discussant: Kaori Nagai (University of Kent)
16:45-18:00Keynote Lecture
Luděk Brož (Institute of Ethnology of the Czech Academy of Sciences)
Beyond the Farm and Back Again? African Swine Fever between Domesticated Forests and Wild Pork Markets
Chair: Matheus Alves Duarte da Silva (University of St Andrews)
Fri 16 June 2023
09:00-11:00Panel 4: Rats and Urban Plague | Chair: Caroline Mburu (University of St Andrews)

Drawing Together Epizootic and Epidemic Plague in Colonial Hong Kong | Christos Lynteris (University of St Andrews)

Fleas, Knowledge-Making, and Etiologies of Disease in the British Empire: Perspectives from the Plague Epidemic in India | Emily Webster (Durham University)

Envisioning Epizootics: Rat-Catching, Rat-Surveillance, and Public Health in France (1900-1930) | Matheus Alves Duarte da Silva (University of St Andrews)

Amplifying Plague: Harnessing Epizootics during the Third Pandemic | Oliver French (University of St Andrews)

Discussant: Francisco Javier Martínez (Universidad de Zaragoza)
11:00-11:15Coffee break
11:15-13:15Panel 5: Borderland Epizootics | Chair: Matheus Alves Duarte da Silva (University of St Andrews)

“Our Forest Turned Silent”: Epizootics and Onset of Ebola Outbreaks in Northeastern DRC | Jules Villa (Sciences Po)

Geographies of Tolerance: Rendering the Lyme Disease Epidemic Invisible | Ritti Sonco (University of Edinburgh)

Man-Made Animal Disease Made Animal-Man: The Case of ASF | Jordan Oekle (Technische Universität Dresden)

The Capitalist Production of Hantavirus Outbreaks and the Guarani Good Living “Nhandereko” | Allan Rodrigo de Campos Silva (Universidade Estadual Paulista – UNESP)

Discussant: Jack E. Greatrex (Nanyang Technological University)
13:15-14:30Lunch Break Social
14:30-16:30Panel 6: Interspecies and Multispecies Epizootics | Chair: Christos Lynteris (University of St Andrews)

Rabbits and Leaf-Cutting Ants: The Brazilian Plan to Use the Myxoma Virus (MYXV) against Rabbit Plagues in Australia, 1896-1952 | Jorge Tibilletti de Lara (PPGHCS/COC/Fundação Oswaldo Cruz)

Squirrels, Rats, Owls, and Fleas: Interspecies Epizootics in California, 1900s-20s | Jules Skotnes-Brown (University of St Andrews)

Beyond the “Epidemic Villain” Pollution and Human-Animal Relations in Chinese Epidemics, 1700-1880 | Bo Peter Zhang (University of Cambridge)

Global Pathogens and the Promise of Multispecies Care | Alberto E. Morales (Princeton University)

Discussant: Freya Jephcott (University of Cambridge)
16:30-16:45Coffee break
16:45-18:00Roundtable | Chair: Christos Lynteris (University of St Andrews)

Nükhet Varlik (Rutgers University)

James Fairhead (University of Sussex)

Angela Cassidy (University of Exeter)

Eben Kirksey (University of Oxford)

Hannah Brown (Durham University), Agrovets and More-than-Veterinarian Animal Sickness in Western Kenya

Kenya experienced a large-scale and rapid privatisation of clinical veterinary services in the early 1990s. This history continues to inform the country’s contemporary neoliberal developmental economy for animal medicine in farming. Government veterinary services are largely limited to concerns of public health (e.g. meat inspection) and animal disease surveillance, and free services or training for farmers are provided intermittently and patchily by the non-governmental sector or industrial companies seeking to create new consumers for their products. For farmers with limited or financially constrained access to qualified veterinary personnel, specialist shops called agrovets provide an essential service. Circumscribed by the financial limits of what it is possible for them to invest in caring for their animals, farmers visit such shops seeking medicines, treatments, vaccines, and advice. Meanwhile, international and local concerns about misuse of medicines – especially of antimicrobials – are often critical of these shops and suspect them of improperly selling antibiotics directly to farmers for their own administration. This work-in-progress paper explores the role of these shops in supporting farmers with sick animals and argues that this privatised mode of animal medicine pushes us to consider animal medicine as an economic endeavour that is more-than-veterinarian, going beyond standard conceptualisations of animal sickness and wellbeing.

Allan Rodrigo de Campos Silva (Universidade Estadual Paulista – UNESP), The Capitalist Production of Hantavirus Outbreaks and the Guarani Good Living “Nhandereko”

In the last decades, public health research has recorded the growth of hantavirus outbreaks in humans in the interior of the state of São Paulo. Located in the southeast region of Brazil, the state of São Paulo stands out as the largest center of intensive sugarcane production in the world, producing around 13 billion liters of ethanol in the 2020/2021 harvest. However, despite their proliferation, the outbreaks have marked a seasonality between April and November, months of low rainfall but whose period coincides with the harvest of sugarcane crops and during which there is greater availability of food for wild rodents. In dialogue with theories of social production of space (Lefebvre, Santos), we consider that epizootic/ zoonotic outbreaks can be understood as moments of the production of “spaces of contagion”, in which the social relations of production in landscapes produced by capitalist modernisation, interferes with climatic patterns. Thus, based on geographic/ epidemiological research, we analyse the relationship between sugarcane harvests and hantavirus outbreaks in the interior of the state of São Paulo, in Brazil, and propose an interpretation of epizootics/epidemics outbreaks within an integrated framework considering “animal health”, “landscape health”, “human health” and the capitalist circuits of dispossession and accumulation, in dialogue with Structural One Health (Rob Wallace) and Guarani people cosmovision, anchored in Nhandereko or the Guarani good living. Finally, we discuss the contradictions between the mitigation of climate change and the particular impact of Renewable Hydrocarbon Biofuels production on land structure and relations between society and the environment in Brazil.

Matheus Alves Duarte da Silva (University of St Andrews), Envisioning Epizootics: Rat-Catching, Rat-Surveillance, and Public Health in France (1900-1930)

Rat-catching practices flourished around the world at the turn of the nineteenth century in the wake of the third plague pandemic. In most of the contexts where it was applied, it aimed to reduce rat populations and ultimately bring under control plague among humans. From the end of the 1900s, rat-catching was also justified in terms of surveying the degree of contamination by plague among rats, hoping thus to anticipate epizootics and, thanks to that, avoid or better manage human outbreaks. In this talk, I will focus on rat-catching and on the study of rat epizootics in the urban areas of Marseille and Paris in the first three decades of the twentieth century. I will show how this sanitary strategy conceptually transformed, from 1922 onwards, the rat into the reservoir of plague, making then a case for a continued surveillance. Finally, I will discuss how this epistemological shift symbolises a new era of the fight against plague not only in France but globally, more centred on rat surveillance rather than on the direct destruction of these animals.  

Lyle Fearnley (Singapore University of Technology and Design), Qualifying Risky Poultry: Live Bird Markets, Epizootics and Food Distrust in China and Indonesia

Live bird markets, or “wet markets”, are widely identified as sources of zoonotic disease transmission and pandemic risk. As a result, global health authorities and many national governments have called for the closure of live bird markets and their replacement with slaughtered and chilled poultry supply chains. However, these bans are controversial, and often infeasible, because consumers in many parts of Asia continue to prefer purchase of live poultry over pre-slaughtered meat. Previous studies have suggested that this preference is rooted in traditional values of freshness, including an ontology of “warm meat”. In this paper, I compare consumers in China and Indonesia who shop at live bird markets to explore the much more diverse values and perceptions of risk that underly preference for live poultry in different Asian contexts. In both cases, I show how these preferences are not best understood as residual traditions, but rather as emergent responses to the modernization of the food industry and loss of trust in food safety. 

Oliver French (University of St Andrews) Amplifying Plague: Harnessing Epizootics during the Third Pandemic

The first decade of the third plague pandemic in India was marked by a proliferation in violent anti-rat activities across the sub-continent. “No rats, no plague”, the fundamental tenant of the popular “common-sense” policy, encapsulated an optimism for “modern” control of plague through the extermination, if not eradication of this archaic enemy. Yet, over the course of these expansive experimentations with and efforts at “rodenticide”, the value of killing rats was unsettled. Central to this was the concept of the epizootic. This paper shows that the notion human plague progressed through a rat “phase” of infection introduced a suite of concerns over the insidious impacts of anti-rat interventions. In confronting the edges between animal and human disease, colonial officers questioned whether rat destruction may not only be impotent as a prophylactic measure, but in fact amplify plague’s progression into its epidemic form. By 1909, this uncertainty coalesced in the abandonment of “total-war” in favour of targeted rat-killing campaigns. The paper argues that the epizootic’s identity as a natural “crisis” among rats, which could be amplified by rational intervention, was constructed as a powerful tool in the struggle against both plague and rats. It argues that the concentration of state interventions to pre-empt this moment of “crisis” was imbricated in wider aspirations for imperial governance in India. 

Frédéric Keck (CNRS/EHESS/Collège de France), How Avian Flu Became Endemic: History and Anthropology of a Global Mobilization

On September 16, 2022, an article in Le Monde described “bird flu becoming endemic among wildlife”. Since its emergence in Hong Kong in 1997, the H5N1 avian flu virus had rather caused an epizootic by spreading from wild birds to domestic poultry in China to Asia, Europe and Africa, raising fears of a pandemic more deadly than H1N1 in 1918. How do the framing of a virus as epizootic, pandemic or endemic change the ways in which humans manage it on a global scale? How have the relationships between human health, animal health, and environmental health been reorganised in response to these framings? And if avian influenza has become endemic, how will poultry farmers and bird conservationists learn to live with the H5N1virus and its mutants?

Christos Lynteris (University of St Andrews), Drawing Together Epizootic and Epidemic Plague in Colonial Hong Kong

Examining government publications and archives from colonial Hong Kong in the context of the third plague pandemic, I examine the ways in which graphs or “curves”, to use the term employed at the time, of human epidemics and human epizootics caused by plague were drawn together. The paper explores how working together these “curves” contributed to the emergence of notions of the relation between epizootics and epidemics, and of the idea of plague as a zoonotic disease. Rather than telling this as a story of discovery, I focus on processes of collecting and relating: How were data about rat deaths collected in plague-stricken Hong Kong between 1899 and 1904? What practical issues, social practices and epistemic questions arose in the context of this data collection? How were these graphs used to render ratfall and human plague cases comparable? And what situated conclusions were drawn as a result of this graphic comparison? Underlining the aporetic, rather than apodictic, function of drawing together epizootics and epidemics of plague in colonial Hong Kong, the paper shows how new ways of epidemiological reasoning about the disease emerged through this comparative process.

Caroline Mburu (University of St Andrews), The Complexities of Land Ownership and Use in the Kilombero Wetland, Tanzania and its Implications for Rat Control

Land ownership and use in the Kilombero wetland is a highly contentious issue. As a locale with abundant rainfall and suitable soils for agriculture, many have migrated to this area. Migration to this area was heightened during the construction of the TAZARA railway line in the 1970s, and has continued since then. Rats not only cause damage to crops, food, and other household items but are also reservoirs for many human diseases. The prioritisation of communities working together to control rats is advocated in rural spaces in an ecologically sound manner. An ethnographic study conducted in a rural village in Tanzania highlighted the historical and political economic aspects of land ownership that determine who has access to and use of which farm and why this needs to be considered to ensure sustainable and context-specific rodent control. Constantly evolving land ownership and use influences what people can and cannot do on land,  including rat control. The wealthy, who farm large portions of land, do not reside in the area and are also more likely to utilise the safer portions of land that are flooded year-round and with fewer rodents. Farmland portions are used by farmers from many different villages, which can complicate working together for rat control. This study highlights how historical and unequal land distribution can cause rats to thrive and hinder effective community collaboration in rodent control. 

Alberto E. Morales (Princeton University), Global Pathogens and the Promise of Multispecies Care

With climate change on the rise, and its impact on ecologies and biodiversity, epizootics present a considerable threat to public health and health security globally. Based on 18 months of fieldwork in Panama, this presentation sheds light on the ecological and multispecies relations that figure prominently in global health and natural products research. Natural products scientists study the chemical properties of “naturally” occurring compounds in biodiversity-rich regions worldwide for potential pharmaceutical developments and biomedical interventions. This presentation focuses on the potential of multispecies assemblages in the reengineering of biotic materials beyond human health and economic speculation. Specifically, this presentation focuses on the deterioration of amphibian and frog populations due to the ongoing menace of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), a global microbiotic pathogen. Concerned with biodiversity decline, natural products scientists research microbiotic communities on the skin of the Panamanian poison frog to detect new chemical compounds for drug development that may enable the survival of other amphibians. This presentation traces shifting concepts and uses of life and interprets natural products scientists’ forms of experimentation in contributing to more livable worlds.

Alex Mullan (University of Roehampton), Epizootics, Ethnography, and the Unseen Zoo

Covid protocols have brought into starker realisation the impacts of disease transmission on health in zoos. From bird flu to orf, zoos can be a nexus of disease that spreads among captive populations, as well as to humans and wild fauna. This paper’s analysis of epizootics in zoos is informed by over a year of ethnographic fieldwork undertaken with Edinburgh Zoo and the Highland Wildlife Park. An initial overview of epizootics in the zoo will look at not only the most prevalent diseases, but also the steps keepers take to mitigate these risks, outside of veterinary intervention. Using a reimagined map of the zoo that overlays pest territories and “backstage” areas, I will adapt Val Plumwood’s concept of “shadow places” to investigate how public-facing enclosures are entangled and reliant upon the in-between areas where local wildness remains. This new perspective can encourage us to think differently about human-animal interactions in zoos. Finally, I will move on to a handful of case studies that illuminate these entanglements and speak to the conference’s questions about knowledge sharing, observation, and wild and domestic spaces. The paper will conclude by assessing the usefulness of ethnography as a way of informing epizootic research.

Wesley Mwatwara (Walter Sisulu University), Corporate Negligence? Re-examining the Foot and Mouth Disease Outbreaks at Nuanetsi Ranch, in Colonial Zimbabwe, 1933-34

This study contributes to ongoing historiographical conversations regarding the nature of colonial societies through the lens of the suspected 1933 and the confirmed 1934 Foot and Mouth Disease outbreaks at Nuanetsi Ranch in Southern Rhodesia. It builds on earlier works on the socio-environmental encounters involving Africans, settlers and the state in the 1930s to further demonstrate that the nature of the colonial state and racial stereotypes were not always as simple as was previously thought.  Scholarly works from an environmental history approach assess technocratic interventions in the African reserves and invariably show how these interventions were motivated by the idea that the African was irrational and was not capable to following “sober” instructions from colonial officials. Accordingly, scholars have trenchantly discussed the idea that the African reserve was a reservoir of livestock diseases and also a threat to the fledgling livestock industry while his supposed poor farming methods were considered a threat to the environment. Yet, in terms of livestock disease management in the 1930s, a potpourri of state induced measures meant to stem environmental degradation ironically caused the same. These revelations offer an opportunity to further interrogate the basis upon which both veterinary and “native” policies on livestock diseases was anchored. Thus, through utilising the primary evidence gathered from investigations carried out by the police in 1935 regarding FMD outbreaks at Nuanetsi Ranch between 1933 and 1934, this study adds a layer to discussions over the nature of colonial relations. In doing so, it also demonstrates the interactions of several elements of colonial society: the police, settler commercial entities, Africans and the Veterinary Department.  In overall terms, it also makes commentary on the heterogeneity of the colonial state and subvert the oft-made argument replete in the archives that Africans were largely irresponsible and were, therefore, to blame for the disease outbreaks.

Jordan Oekle (Technische Universität Dresden), Man-Made Animal Disease Made Animal-Man: The Case of ASF

This paper analyses biosecurity discourses in the media and in the author’s qualitative research in Germany’s border region with Poland. ASF measures instituted by veterinarians without knowledge of wild boar’s are put in place to slowly prevent the virus from reaching the larger concentration of pig farms in central and west Germany. Hunters and other regional actors are enrolled to protect animal agriculture structures and practices which in fact threaten a healthy planet. Two solutions are proposed to effectively engage with the more-than-human biopolitics of disease management in wild animals, in this case (boars). Firstly, following a scholarship that reframes epizootics as “man-made animal diseases” combats a misunderstood temporality of the ever-presence of diseases in wild animals, in order to recognise that they have become more deadly as a result and helps to de-problematise viral hosts, rather than putting the focus on humans as causal agents. Secondly, “animal-man” transcends human exceptionalism to epizootic diseases as “not endangering humans”, and thus, not being much of a concern for the general citizen-consumer. These discursive re-framings allows for more careful thinking and acting with our fellow animals in epidemics and to challenge conventional meat production that makes species crossover of viruses more likely.

Matheus Henrique Pereira da Silva (Federal University of São Carlos) and Bruno Silva Santos (University of St Andrews), The Killing of the Mares and the “Hips Malady”: Horses, Doctors, and Epizootics in the Amazon (1885-1941)

This paper will focus on the animal disease knew as “hips malady” (“mal das cadeiras”, in Portuguese), which affected the horse herd of the Marajó Island (Brazilian Amazon) in the nineteenth century. The Island was the main centre of production of fresh meat in the region, and the threat represented by such disease to the health of cattle generated a series of policies, practices, and scientific studies that aimed to contain the disease. We will analyse the cultural, political, and economic motivations that mobilised farmers and doctors, and that made it possible to slaughter the island’s horse herd. These questions will be approached from different theories on animal diseases and epizootics, ranging from perceptions of local farmers and breeders to scientific theories systematised by studies of three doctors (João Batista Lacerda, Adolf Lutz, and Geth Jansen). How were disease and death of animals perceived in the context of the Amazon island? How has tropical medicine interacted with the practices and knowledge of local creators and tried to assimilate them into its own knowledge system? In this way, this work aims to understand the social, political, and epistemological processes involved in a horse epizootic in an incipient pastoral industry in the Brazilian Amazon.

Jean Segata (Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul), Pets and Pests: Troubled Stories Between Humans and Rats

In 2016, a colony of white rats was found living in a public park in downtown Porto Alegre, in southern Brazil. At the time, it was speculated that they were either abandoned pets or laboratory animals from the nearby university. The situation was troubled, and the only consensus was that the park was not appropriate for those rodents. The event drew the attention of the city’s public opinion and sparked a crusade between the emerging moralities of the animal rights universe and the biosafety policies regarding the nature and destiny of white rats. Animal protection advocates perceived the rats as abandoned and vulnerable, necessitating care and protection. Conversely, environmental and health authorities considered them to be potential contaminants, either as an invasive exotic species or simply as rats. The latter view was fraught with stigma and suspicion that they had possibly escaped from a laboratory, which could have resulted in the rats carrying viruses or bacteria from experiments. In this case, both the human population and local biodiversity would have been vulnerable, necessitating care and protection as well. In this presentation, I will explore the ambivalences involved in distinct forms of human-rat relationships, specifically those between rescue and adoption groups and environmental and health authorities, highlighting elements from a broader research project on multispecies health. Drawing from the case of the park event, I will demonstrate how human-rat relationships exceed the grammar of Global Health in the field of zoonoses, challenging coexistence, and contagion as well as affecting emotions and health protocols.

Jules Skotnes-Brown (University of St Andrews), Squirrels, Rats, Owls, and Fleas: Interspecies Epizootics in California, 1900s-20s

In 1903, thousands of squirrels began mysteriously dying throughout Contra Costa County, California. Fearing that these deaths might be due to bubonic plague, Dr Rupert Blue commenced an intensive search for infection, yet found no such evidence. Meanwhile, celebrating the mysterious demise of a despised pest, settler farmers attempted actively to propagate the disease by depositing squirrel corpses into uninfected burrows. In 1908, Blue’s initial fears were confirmed, and a campaign against ground squirrels was initiated to prevent California from becoming a “natural habitat” of plague. This paper investigates how the Californian Ground Squirrel burrow became a site for the extensive suspicion, surveillance, and propagation of epizootics between species, and how public health officials attempted to control it. These subterranean spaces were occupied by squirrels, black and brown rats, burrowing owls, and numerous ectoparasites. Officials feared that within squirrel burrows, rats would acquire plague infection and spread it into cities, while owls would transmit the disease between disparate burrow systems. In attempt to cleanse squirrel burrows, poison, dogs, ratcatchers, and a fumigation device called the “Squirrel Destructor” were all unleashed on burrow-residents. Ultimately, I argue that officials viewed the squirrel burrow as a kind of underground animal infrastructure, which would enable the circulation of epizootics between nonhumans, eventually culminating in human infection.

Ritti Sonco (University of Edinburgh), Geographies of Tolerance: Rendering the Lyme Disease Epidemic Invisible  

Scotland’s landscapes and national past-time of hillwalking are seeped in topophilia inspired by literature, films, art, and passionate debates on its wilderness, domesticity, and stewardship. But Scotland, in particular the Scottish Highlands, also has the highest incidence of Lyme disease in Europe, a complex multi-organ illness caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria and spread by the Ixodes ricinus tick. As Scotland’s “wild” landscapes and its Highland animals are conjured in the international imagination as pristine, beautiful, and healthy, little to nothing is published on tourist and public health websites on their role in spreading Lyme disease. Based on 15 months ethnographic research, this paper introduces the concept “geographies of tolerance” and its role in rendering disease invisible. In Part 1, I introduce the (in)visible animals members of the epizootic network of Lyme disease. I then map their habitats across my interlocutors’ sites of infection in Scottish landscapes. Part 2 discusses the social construction of these landscapes and animals: I explore how the historic tension of wilderness and domesticity, perpetuated by the Highland Clearances, bloodsports, literature, film, art, and international tourism, makes landscapes safe, while anxieties of epizootics have led to community-wide debates blaming certain animals as dangers and discussing their possible eradication. Part 3 explores the impact that the COVID-19 lockdown and the Black Lives Matter movement in the summer 2020 had on “wilderness” maintenance, landscape access and charisma, and the making invisible of epizootics. This paper asks: How can “wild spaces” render epizootics tolerable?

Jorge Tibilletti de Lara (PPGHCS/COC/Fundação Oswaldo Cruz), Rabbits and Leaf-Cutting Ants: The Brazilian Plan to Use the Myxoma Virus (MYXV) against Rabbit Plagues in Australia, 1896-1952

The following presentation is the result of an article of the same name, published in co-authorship with the researcher Gabriel Lopes, in which we analyse the singularity of historical, scientific, and political processes from the discovery of the disease caused by the myxoma virus (MYXV) that came to be known as infectious myxomatosis to the application of this virus against a plague of rabbits in Australia. The deliberate production of an epizootic of myxomatosis was initially proposed by Brazilian scientists and later tested as an alternative to solve the problem of massive reproduction of Oryctolagus cuniculus, a European species of rabbit and therefore exotic in Australia. This narrative focuses on research by Henrique de Beaurepaire Aragão, a researcher at the Oswaldo Cruz Institute, and later efforts by the scientist Jean Macnamara to promote studies and implement MYXV in Australia. The scientists’ research notes were consulted, along with official documents recording the experiments and periodicals. In this process, the historical development of virology and biological controls as a field of study was also considered.

Jules Villa (Sciences Po), “Our Forest Turned Silent”: Epizootics and Onset of Ebola Outbreaks in Northeastern DRC

This paper argues that epizootics provide crucial – yet too often unexplored – clues to challenge the Ebola emergence narratives published in the medical literature. Most of the origin stories recorded in the medical literature are presenting an index case related to a healthcare facility, mixing up the place where the disease was first identified (and spread) with the place where humans were first infected. Based on ethnographic and historical investigations conducted on the sites of the supposed origins of the 2004, 2012, 2017 and 2018 Ebola outbreaks in Northeastern DRC (respectively of the Sudan, Bundibugyo, and Zaire strains), interviews and archival work with both medical and non-medical practitioners, this paper presents the variety of species, from apes to red river hogs, to duikers, pigs, and goats whose massive deaths had been locally recorded before human mortality. Looking at these epizootics enables new questions to emerge, paying attention to the new ways of living in a context of war, environmental transformation, and changing relations between species. The local accounts of these epidemic & epizootics encourage to investigate new territories of emergence and to pay attention to specific social practices questioning the wild/domesticated or village/bush dichotomy.

Emily Webster (Durham University), Fleas, Knowledge-Making, and Etiologies of Disease in the British Empire: Perspectives from the Plague Epidemic in India

While the colloquially known rat-flea theory of plague gained acceptance and attention in international sanitary circles in the early twentieth century, the majority of medical studies of the epizootic focused primarily on the first – and most visible – actor in this name. Experiments and observations undertaken by the Indian Medical Service largely followed this trend, documenting carefully death rates among both Rattus rattus and Rattus norvegicus populations, a small group of scientists in Bombay and Calcutta turned their attention to Xenopsylla cheopis, the so-called rat-flea, to understand the epizootic mechanisms of plague. It was through their wide-ranging and occasionally quirky experiments that connections between temperature, Yersinia pestis replication, and infectivity among fleas – mechanisms that are still widely cited in plague literature today – were forged, tested, and theorised. This talk will consider how the rat-flea theory of plague was further developed and altered through the unique ecological and scientific context of the Bombay plague epidemic. Reflecting on the complex and changing role of both ecological and epidemiological evidence in knowledge-making at the turn of the twentieth century, it will elucidate how these practices, grounded in the urban contexts of twentieth century Bombay and Calcutta, were critical in formulating a pervasive etiology of epizootic plague. 

Bo Peter Zhang (University of Cambridge), Beyond the “Epidemic Villain” Pollution and Human-Animal Relations in Chinese Epidemics, 1700-1880

The paper aims to demonstrate how ideas about physical and symbolic pollution shaped the complex exchanges that took place between humans and animals in early modern Chinese epidemics (1700–1850). Historians of China have traditionally paid little attention to non-human animals in their studies of crises like epidemics. More often than not, animals feature as a borderline chorus in their grand narratives about the various epic episodes of the Chinese Anthropocene. However, a plethora of sources from eighteenth and nineteenth century Jiangnan suggests an unprecedented awareness of the connection between animals and epidemic diseases in people’s everyday interactions with despised vermin and essential livestock. Animal bodies, carcasses, and waste were identified as major factors in producing dirty, impure, and polluting environments. When interpreted in conjunction with the social, religious, and cultural beliefs and practices about disasters, the non-human, and marginalised outcasts in late imperial societies, this consciousness of pollution becomes something more powerful, in a symbolic sense. A complementary reading of animals as both physical and symbolic polluters in early modern Chinese epidemics uncovers valuable insights about how humans experienced, represented, and treated animals during crises, actions that are fundamentally about ordering and reordering that which is out of place.