Invasive Species and Shifting Disease Ecologies: Perspectives from the Humanities and the Social Sciences

2nd Annual Conference of The Global War Against the Rat and the Epistemic Emergence of Zoonosis project; Online Conference, Department of Social Anthropology, University of St Andrews

June 30 – July 1, 2022

Registration is free. To register please contact: wwrat@st-andrews.ac.uk by June 20 2022, 14:00 BST.

Since at least the late-nineteenth century, invasive species have become a key concern of ecosystem managers, farmers, medical scientists, and civilians alike. These allegedly destructive foreign animals, plants, and microbes have become targets of state surveillance, nationalist hatred, and ultimately mass eradication campaigns in the service of agriculture, public health, ecological purity, and the recreation of “pristine” nature. Such campaigns have, at times, been shaped by xenophobic discourses, mirroring colonialist and modern anti-immigration agendas. At other times, failures to eradicate invasive species have exposed the limits of bio- and necropolitics over the “natural world”. Yet what counts as “invasive” has always been a matter of controversy. The term itself has been problematised as inappropriate in casting creatures often transported by humans as villainous militants. In spite of the growing corpus of works on invasive species in the humanities and the social sciences little attention has been paid to histories and ethnographies of the relation of these to infectious diseases. Bringing together scholars of the environmental and medical humanities in dialogue with the natural sciences, this conference aims to elucidate the medical, microbial, and health dimensions of species invasiveness. We seek to question how invasive species have shaped the emergence, persistence, and alteration of disease ecologies, as well as how they have impacted nutrition, food security, and wellbeing.


Bringing together perspectives from the humanities and the social sciences in dialogue with the life sciences, this online conference seeks to break new ground in the hitherto understudied medical and health dimensions of species invasiveness. In so doing, it aims to elucidate how species invasiveness has been linked to medical and health questions, the epistemological, political and ethnographic realities of making this connection, and to examine how medicalized notions of “invasive species” have shaped relationships between humans, animals, plants, microbes, land use, and the environment.

Convenors:

Christos Lynteris (University of St Andrews)

Jules Skotnes-Brown (University of St Andrews)

Thu 30 June 2022
11:00-11:30Welcome and introduction
11:30-13:30Panel 1: Invasions in the Anthropocene | Chair: Jules-Skotnes Brown (University of St Andrews)

Anthropocene Invaders: Crooked Cats in Indian Cities | Nayanika Mathur (University of Oxford)

Temporalising Invasives: The Connections and Separations of Future-History Health(s) | Maddy Pearson (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)

A Plague of Weasels and Ticks: Introduction, Ecological Disaster and the Balance of Nature in Jamaica, 1870-1900 | Matthew Holmes (University of Cambridge)

Mosquito Empires Strike Back: Aedes Ecologies and Invasion Rhetorics in the Anthropocene | Luísa Reis Castro (University of Southern California), Túllio da Silva Maia (University of Exeter), Uli Beisel (Freie Universität Berlin)

Discussant: Liana Chua (University of Cambridge)
13:30-14:30Lunch break Social
14:30-16:30Panel 2: Political Tensions | Chair: Oliver French (University of St Andrews)

Combating Pests Across Colonial and Territorial Boundaries: The Politics of Locust Control Across Southern Africa, c.1900-c.1970 | Admire Mseba (University of Missouri)

Framing the Invasion: Plague, Wild Rodents, and Political Tensions in the South of Angola, 1932-1937 | Matheus Alves Duarte da Silva (University of St Andrews)

The “Fierce African Mosquito” in Brazil (1930-1940) | Gabriel Lopes (Casa de Oswaldo Cruz/ Fundação Oswaldo Cruz)

Ecological or Political Invasion? Anti-Rat Stalinist Propaganda in Poland | Gabriela Jarzębowska (University of Warsaw)

Discussant: Peter Soppelsa (University of Oklahoma)
16:30-16:45Break
16:45-18:15Keynote Lecture: Laura Ogden (Dartmouth College)

Animal Diasporas, A Thought Experiment

Chair: Jules Skotnes-Brown (University of St Andrews)
Fri 1 July 2022
09:00-10:30Panel 3: Islands and Oceans | Chair: Emmanuelle Roth (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München)

Rats and Water Casks: Shipborne Water Economy in the Nineteenth Century | Kaori Nagai (University of Kent)

The Migratory Rat: Framing Animal Mobility in the Third Plague Pandemic | Christos Lynteris (University of St Andrews)

The Indian Mongoose. The Emergence of a Problematic Introduced Species in the Context of Late Nineteenth Century Imperialism | Vincent Bijman (Maastricht University)

Discussant: Sujit Sivasundaram (University of Cambridge)
10:30-10:45Break
10:45-12:15Panel 4: Borders, Frontiers, Movement | Chair: Matheus Alves Duarte da Silva (University of St Andrews)

Migrations and Infestations: The Phylloxera Pest and the British Empire, 1860-1910 | Chelsea Davis (Colby College)

Invasion, Contamination and Coexistence: A Short History of the Contingent Geometries of Infection in the Mediterranean | Sarah Green (University of Helsinki)

Invasive Species, Invasive Settlers: Veld Plague in Ovamboland, 1932-1941 | Jules Skotnes-Brown (University of St Andrews)

Discussant: Mattia Fumanti (University of St Andrews)
12:15-14:00Lunch break Social
14:00-15:00Panel 5: Eradication | Chair: Bruno Silva Santos (University of St Andrews)

“Covering For Our City Blight”: Public Health and Kudzu Eradication in Atlanta, 1977-1994 | Kenneth Reilly (University of Western Ontario)

The Return of Rinderpest to German East Africa, 1912-1920 | Thaddeus Sunseri (Colorado State University)

Discussant: Ann H. Kelly (King’s College London)
15:00-15:15Break
15:15-16:45Panel 6: Rethinking Invasion | Chair: Bridget Bradley (University of St Andrews)

Caring for Caterpillars, or, How Postcolonial Literature Rethinks the Native-Invasive Paradigm | Dominic O’Key (University of Sheffield)

Owners and Illnesses: The Urban Invasion and the Guarani-Mbya People’s Resistance in Jaraguá Indigenous Land (Brazil, São Paulo) | Bruno Silva Santos (University of St Andrews)

Biosemiotics of the Combat Against Wild Boars | Juan Martin Dabezies (Universidad de la República, Uruguay)

Discussant: Radhika Govindrajan (University of Washington)
16:45-17:00Break
17:00-18:30Roundtable | Chair: Christos Lynteris (University of St Andrews)

Emily Wanderer (University of Pittsburgh)

Lyle Fearnley (Singapore University of Technology and Design)

David Orton (University of York)

Ludek Broz (Czech Academy of Sciences)

Sabine Clark (University of York)

Vincent Bijman (Maastricht University)

The Indian Mongoose: The emergence of a problematic introduced species in the context of late 19th century imperialism

In the late 19th century, the Indian Mongoose (Urva auropunctata) was introduced into various islands of the Caribbean’s by landowners in need for a means to control rats, that were damaging their sugarcane crops. Unfortunately for the farmers, the activity of the Mongoose did not restrict itself to killing rats. The Mongoose started eating and damaging poultry, fruits, and the eggs of endemic ground nesting birds. In Hawaii, the Mongoose became targeted together with rats for a pest eradication programme during the early twentieth century. In this paper, I trace how various actors such as local landowners, scientist and civil servants started to regard the Mongoose as a problematic introduced species, during a time when acclimatization projects became re-evaluated and the global movement of animals and plants as means for the improvement of nature and society contested. While the Mongoose was previously regarded as a suitable companion for rat and snake control, it now became regarded as a threat to commercial interests and nature protection. After it had been moved to the Caribbean’s, the Mongoose adapted its behavior to the local context, in ways unforeseen by the people introducing them. This points us at how the Mongoose itself was also an actor in becoming regarded as a problematic introduced species.  


Luísa Reis Castro (University of Southern California) & Túllio da Silva Maia, (University of Exeter) & Uli Beisel (Freie Universität Berlin)

Mosquito Empires Strike Back: Aedes ecologies and invasion rhetorics in the anthropocene

Autochtone cases of dengue and chikungunya have recently been reported in Europe. Both diseases are caused by viruses transmitted by mosquitoes from the genus Aedes, most notably Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, which can also carry other pathogenic viruses, including Zika, yellow fever, and West Nile. Aedes presence in the continent is recurrently framed as a threatening “invasion.” Vector control strategies still mostly focus on “points of entry,” which assumes the “threat” is coming from “the tropics” beyond the “walls of Europe”—even though these mosquitoes have already established themselves across the continent, albeit unevenly. How can Aedes’ presence in Europe shed light into discussions about historically-constituted epidemiological geographies as well as imagined futures within ecologies of health? By bringing the growing European investments in surveying and monitoring Aedes mosquitoes and their movement into conversation with earlier invasion and war logics in (post)colonial mosquito control, this paper discusses the politics of governing more-than-human life within shifting disease ecologies. Following Indigenous scholars’ proposal that colonialism defines the Anthropocene, we analyze the long-standing geopolitics of mosquito ecologies as both being politically situated within global planetary transformation and profoundly shaped by a racial capitalist body politic.


Juan Martin Dabezies (Universidad de la República)

Biosemiotics of the Combat Against Wild Boars

The wild boar is considered one of the biological invaders with greater dispersion worldwide. Historically, wild boars have also been one of the most appreciated hunting preys. In this presentation, I focus on the case of Uruguay, where wild boars are considered a national pest. This declaration has prompted its hunting, becoming the favourite prey for big game Uruguayan hunters. I propose that the “combat” against wild boars is related to the development of a hunting culture that feeds on the symbology of pests. I analyze dimensions linked to this hunting culture, such as some semiotic aspects related to its beastliness, present on the surface and morphology of the boar body. It is not an isolated group of signs but part of a historical process engaged in imaginaries and hunting modalities highlighting ferocity and risk.


Chelsea Davis (Colby College)

Migrations and Infestations: The phylloxera pest and the British Empire, 1860-1910

In the mid-nineteenth century, the winegrowing worlds faced an unprecedented invasion. In mere decades, invisible, mysterious armies of pestilence had not only raided the French countryside, but had spread across continental Europe. Eventually the outbreak reached global proportions, compromising millions of hectares of grape vines around the world, across five continents. In its rapid dispersal, the a near-microscopic aphid named ‘Phylloxera vastatrix’, meaning ‘destroyer of vines’ developed a reputation as ‘pest’ or ‘foreign invader’. This paper seeks to examine the invasion of phylloxera in Britain’s wine-producing empire of South Africa and Australia in the late nineteenth century. I plan to consider the ‘cultural biography’ of phylloxera and more specifically examine how historical actors throughout the British Empire conceptualized this insect, often assigning it human-like qualities within official correspondence and popular press coverage. Moreover, by framing the louse as an ‘attack’ on the empire, governments conceived of it as an enemy that needed to be suppressed, by borrowing methods and information from other wine-producing empires. The environmental impact of phylloxera provides a lens to assess the evolving relationship between humans and insects, the assignation of agency to non-human subjects, and the ‘othering’ of invasive species in cultural contexts. 


Matheus Alves Duarte da Silva (University of St Andrews)

Framing the Invasion: Plague, wild rodents, and political tensions in the south of Angola (1932-1937)

In 1932, a spectacular sanitary and ecological phenomenon agitated Southern Africa: a plague epizootic following a gerbil migration from South Africa, after touching South West Africa, menaced to enter the south of Angola. Being arguably the first manifestation of an international plague spread led by wild rodents rather than domestic rats, it prompted different reactions in local, colonial, and global levels. In the Portuguese empire, the possible arrival of plague to the Angolan southern border, a zone barely integrated with the rest of the country, caused not only sanitary but political apprehensions. To face both, a provisional, and later permanent, plague service took form. This service deployed anti-rodent practices and, helped by the population, carried out extensive research on the local fauna of rodents, which increased the perception in Angola of an ecological invasion. In this paper, I investigate firstly how the rhetoric of species invasiveness and its multiple political, ecological, and medical meanings emerged in Portuguese/Angolan circles to frame the risks of plague seeding in the south of Angola. Secondly, I discuss how this rhetoric not only informed anti-rodent practices and ecological surveys deployed by the anti-plague service, but how these measures and actions reshaped ideas of species invasiveness.


Sarah Green (University of Helsinki)

Invasion, Contamination and Coexistence: A short history of the contingent geometries of infection in the Mediterranean

There have been diverse responses to the outbreak of infectious disease in the Mediterranean region in the past, some of which strongly controlled borders and others of which did nothing of the sort. This paper takes a look at the idea of border implied in these different responses. The idea of ‘invasive species’ axiomatically implies transgression of a border: an entity crosses into a space where it should not be and causes some kind of trouble there. The definition of ‘invasive’ depends on a prior theory of border, one in which there is a clear division between one side and the other side. And most contemporary medical definitions of ‘infection’ include the word ‘invasion,’ either of the body or of bodily tissues. A different theory of border is implied in the word ‘contamination’: rather than crossing, there is more of a seeping or blending implied: no clear lines between the one and the other. And there is yet another understanding of border that does not evoke either the idea of invasion or contamination: border as the marker of differences within a space of inevitable coexistence. Drawing both on some brief historical descriptions of dealing with outbreaks of infection in the Mediterranean region and from some contemporary ethnography from the east Mediterranean, the paper considers the implications of different forms of border geometry for understanding the idea of infection and what to do about it.


Matthew Holmes (University of Cambridge)

A Plague of Weasels and Ticks: Introduction, ecological disaster and the balance of nature in Jamaica, 1870-1900

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, British colonists in Jamaica became increasingly exasperated by the damage caused to their sugar plantations by rats. In 1871 a British planter attempted to solve this problem by introducing the small Indian mongoose (Urva auropunctata). The animals, however, turned on Jamaica’s insectivorous birds and reptiles, leading to an explosion in the tick population. This paper situates the mongoose catastrophe as a closing chapter in the history of the nineteenth-century acclimatization movement. Foreign observers saw the introduction of the mongoose as a cautionary tale, caricaturing British Jamaica as overrun by a plague of weasels and ticks. Yet I argue that British colonists, administrators, and naturalists attempted to rationalize the introduction and its disastrous aftermath. By pointing to the gradual decline of both the mongoose and tick populations in Jamaica, these groups made the dubious claim that the “balance of nature” would eventually reassert itself in response to introductions gone wrong. This claim sidestepped the lasting ecological damage caused by the mongoose, allowing its adherents to continue their uncritical support of both the Jamaican plantation economy and animal introductions in the British Empire.


Gabriela Jarzębowska (University of Warsaw)

Ecological or Political Invasion? Anti-rat Stalinist propaganda in Poland

My presentation examines the political and cultural dimension of seemingly ecological concept of invasion on example of a broad scale rat extermination campaign in Poland which took place in 1945-1956. The analysis should be located within ongoing discussions on the influence of societal values in the discourse of invasion ecology and its accompanying combatant rhetoric (see e.g. Franklin 2011, Pearce 2016, Mungi, Avinash, Qureshi 2018). I argue that the concept of a nonhuman invasion does not need to be firmly located in ecological discourse but may reflect deep rooted political prejudices. The struggle against rats in Stalinist Poland may be a case in point. Although the intensification of rodent control campaigns at the turn of the 1950s can be explained by a sharp increase of rat population during the war period, the co-occurrence of the anti-rat propaganda with political purges, as well as strategic and rhetorical resemblances between these two operations, call for a closer attention. I argue that the nature of this campaign was political and clearly linked to the consolidation of the Stalinist regime. I demonstrate that the regime’s combatant logic, centered around chasing enemies in order to consolidate the nation around the Party, soon began to incorporate non-human actors as well.


Gabriel Lopes (Fiocruz)

The “Fierce African Mosquito” in Brazil (1930-1940)

In the year of 1930, the Anopheles gambiae, an African mosquito considered one of most efficient malaria vectors in the world, was discovered in Brazil. The arrival of the A. gambiae was made possible in a context of new routes and fast transcontinental transportation between Senegal and the city of Natal in Brazil. The unprecedented malaria outbreaks in Natal were mitigated with the help of the International Health Division of the Rockefeller Foundation (IHDRF) in 1932. However, the silent spread of the African mosquito resulted in the largest registered malaria outbreak in the Americas in the states of Rio Grande do Norte and Ceará in the year of 1938. The A. gambiae was eradicated in 1940 by the Malaria Service of the Northeast (MSNE), a controversial cooperation between the (IHDRF) and the Brazilian government. In this presentation I argue that the arrival and spread of the Anopheles gambiae mosquito in Brazil was mediated by a synergy of political and biophysical factors that include the drought years and the political turbulence between the states and the Federal Government. I will examine reports on medical entomology concerning the behavior of the mosquito in Brazil and will highlight how the outbreaks shaped a transnational epidemiological space and generated political anxieties about the presence of the fierce African mosquito in Latin America.


Christos Lynteris (University of St Andrews)

The Migratory Rat: Framing animal mobility in the Third Plague Pandemic

Whether referring to oceanic travel, on board cargo ships, or the movement within and between towns, villages and cities, the figure of the “migratory rat” assumed immense epistemic and biopolitical proportions in the context of the third plague pandemic (1894-1959). This paper examines the emergence and development of this framing of rats in their relation to plague in the first twenty years of the pandemic, asking in which ways the configuration of the imagined or real mobility of rats as a “migration” became entangled with the pathologization of human migration, and how did framings of the “migratory rat” impact social and interspecies realities in key locations of epidemiological intervention at the time.


Nayanika Mathur (University of Oxford)

Anthropocene Invaders: crooked cats in Indian cities

This paper considers the question of “invasiveness” by focusing on the perambulations of leopards in three big Indian cities. By positing a comparison between the manner in which the very same nonhuman animal – leopards – are talked about and acted upon in markedly different manners in these three sites, it aims to open out two broader sets of discussions that might be perhaps be productively reframed through the Anthropocene. The first is the question of who is the real invader – human or nonhuman – in these urban settings, and what are the implications of a gathering body of work that demonstrates that it is, in fact, humans who are invading feline lands and not vice versa? Secondly and relatedly, what might an ethnographic focus on big cat itineraries and their description as “visits”, “hauntings”, “terror attacks”, or “straying” add to longstanding discussions of invasion? Both these sets of questions will be considered through an attention to colonial histories of urban planning and public health, the class politics of built environments, and the perceived personalities of individualised big cats.  


Admire Mseba (University of Missouri-Columbia)

Combating Pests Across Colonial and Territorial Boundaries: The politics of locust control across southern Africa, c.1900-c.1970

For the better part of the twentieth century, periodic outbreaks of red locust swarms threatened the whole Southern African region, except its southernmost tip. Drawing on archival materials from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, the United Kingdom and the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in Rome, Italy, this paper examines international cooperation in controlling these swarms and the social and political challenges that underlined it. The paper addresses encounters among southern Africa’s white settlers, colonial and imperial officials, the region’s black inhabitants including its rural farmers and nationalist elites, entomologists and the environment—both Southern Africa’s physical geography and the locusts themselves—and their connections to the trajectories of international cooperation in controlling the pest from 1902 to the early 1970s. Politics, it argues, was central to efforts at locust control by both Southern Africa’s states and Britain, Belgium and Portugal, the three European powers with colonies in this region. Equally, knowledge provided by experts—both locals who were familiar with the insects and their ecologies and those from the colonial metropoles—informed Southern African states’ attempts at locust control and their decisions to cooperate in combating the pest. Further, the paper argues that when Southern African states found themselves in a situation where they had to choose between the two, politics rather than science prevailed. The story the paper tells, then, is not only of the triumph of experts, but also of how politics drove political actors to constitute and re-constitute modes of cooperation in environmental control. In doing so the paper addresses questions of the environment, food security, wellbeing, African priorities, white settler power, knowledge production, inter-imperial, inter-territorial relations, decolonization and anti-apartheid actions that scholars rarely address in a single narrative.


Kaori Nagai (University of Kent)

Rats and Water Casks: Shipborne water economy in the nineteenth century

Ships, just like Robinson Crusoe’s island, are ‘closed’ systems, in which human survival depends on the management of limited food and other resources. In the nineteenth century, ship rats posed a big problem in this regard, not only because they ate and spoiled the ship’s food provisions (such as grains and pickled meat), but also because they could easily deplete the ship’s water supply by gnawing the water casks and pipes. Drawing on archival materials such as ship logs and traveler’s accounts, this paper explores a variety of ways in which rats tried to secure their daily access to water in the nineteenth century, especially before the advent of the iron ship. Water casks in particular provided a good opportunity for sailors to observe rats’ resourcefulness in obtaining their drinking water. Ships rats were not merely vermin to be got rid of, but important shipmates with whom the sailors learned to live and share resources. It was therefore important to understand and manage their need for water in order to preserve a ship’s valuable water supply. 


Dominic O’Key (University of Sheffield)

Caring for Caterpillars, or, How Postcolonial Literature Rethinks the Native–Invasive Paradigm

This paper takes up the conference’s call to problematise the dominant native–invasive paradigm of bodily and ecological health by turning towards literary texts. I will argue that works of fiction can trouble the discursive solidity of “invasiveness” and, in doing so, open up new possibilities for relating to nature in an age of mass extinction and climate change. I will make this argument by focusing in particular on Henrietta Rose-Innes’ Nineveh (2011), a novel that explores the life and work of a Cape Town “painless pest relocator” with a “strictly no kill policy”. The paper will reveal how Rose-Innes’ novel engages with the specific historical legacies of contested conservation in post-apartheid South Africa, of invasives and pests, while at the same time articulating a metaphorical relationality that conjoins the will-to-exterminate animals with the racialised will-to-segregate human communities. Ultimately I will suggest that what works like Nineveh make a powerful case for a new idea of home as a multispecies space, one that envisions humans and animals as living in ever-provisional relationality, both in need of shelter for their flourishing.


Maddy Pearson (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)

Temporalising Invasives: The connections and separations of future-history health(s)

In this presentation I draw on 16 months of ethnographic research on ‘dying’ chalk streams in the South-East of England, to explore the way notions of invasive and native species are enacted in the presentation of environmental, and in particular, river health. Noting the temporal and political aspects of such narratives, I trace two cases. Firstly, I trace the monitoring of invasive American mink on no-longer present native water voles, understood as flagship species, and whose reintroduction has been made synonymous with healthy chalk streams for the future. Secondly, I recount the story of Save Beane Marshes, a charity devised to crowd-fund and buy a portion of land housing a chalk stream, to ensure its future health. In this case, I document how humans with ‘scientific gravitas’, were granted access, while those ‘ordinary’ peoples, whose emotions and purse strings had helped purchase and ‘save’ the land, were framed as invasive species, whose access to the land was to be limited “controlled and monitored”, to facilitate the health of this newly purchased marsh-scape as a space ‘for nature.’ Contrasting these two cases, I demonstrate the contradictions of such practices which call for a return to the environments ‘natural state’, ignoring the nature-cultures that have permeated such landscapes throughout history. In turn, I argue that such invasive species narratives and practices foreground scientific management, precluding opportunities for more dynamic ecologies of dwelling.


Kenneth Reilly (University of Western Ontario)

Covering For Our City Blight”: Public health and kudzu eradication in Atlanta, 1977-1994

Environmental historians Kurt Kinbacher, Mart Allen Stewart, and Derick Alderman have shown how Americans characterized the spread of kudzu vine as threatening ecological and racial “purity” in southeastern rural spaces in the mid to late twentieth century. But the fact that Atlanta’s municipal court ruled the vine as a public health risk in 1988, suggests that discourses of health have also shaped perceptions of this plant. This perspective, however, has received little attention. By examining news reports, court cases, and interviews with weed removers from 1977 to 1994, I will argue that Atlanta’s municipal court’s ruling of the vine as a public health risk was rooted in attempts at gentrification. City boosters interested in “improving” Atlanta became frustrated with reports of murder victims and homeless people beneath kudzu growths and went to great extents to characterize the plant and people found near it as unclean and unwelcome elements in the city. Removing the vine was promoted as removing places where “undesirables” could be found and served as a form of social control. Through examining this period, this case study will show how discourses of health and gentrification overlapped in the construction of kudzu as a risk to public health. 


Bruno Silva Santos (University of St Andrews)

Owners and Illnesses: The urban invasion and the Guarani-Mbya people resistance in Jaraguá Indigenous Land (Brazil, São Paulo)

In Brazil, land conflicts between indigenous peoples and non-indigenous actors (e.g. agribusiness and real estate capital) are marked by semantic and political disputes around the concept of invasion – which are articulated, above all, by juridical notions such as property, territory, and borders. On the other hand, ecological approaches about invasive species (IS) have been built upon metaphors of war which frame IS as a challenge to environmental conservation and a threat to human and animal health. Based on Amerindian Studies literature and on ethnographic insights emerging from my fieldwork with the Guarani-Mbya people living in villages surrounded by the city of São Paulo (Brazil), in this paper I will discuss the heterogenous meanings that the concept of invasion can assume in Guarani-Mbya cosmology – contrasting the notions about invasion with wider human-nonhuman engagements entailed in the relations of mastery and ownership among Amerindians. I will argue that, while the rhetoric of invasiveness makes sense when used by my interlocutors to criticize the real state invasion over their villages, the Guarani-Mbya perceptions about how some exotic animals and plants engage with humans, other nonhumans beings and the environment cannot be resumed to the meanings associated to the concept of invasion.


Jules Skotnes-Brown (University of St Andrews)

Invasive Species, Invasive Settlers: Veld plague in Ovamboland, 1932-41

This paper analyses the diplomatic, medical, and scientific consequences of an outbreak of ‘veld plague’ in Ovamboland – a populous region on the border of Namibia and Angola – from a multispecies perspective. In 1932, for the first time, Yersinia pestis moved across African land borders not in the bodies of rats, but of highveld gerbilles, sparking a diplomatic incident and international scientific investigation between Ovambo people, South African, South-West African, and Angolan authorities. I argue that the discovery of Yersinia pestis in Ovamboland transformed highveld gerbilles from indigenous rodents into invasive, migratory species who needed to be subjected to surveillance and border control. As gerbilles were reconceptualised as invasive, so too were the movements of Ovambo people pathologized and subjected to strict biopolitical controls. Not only were their “Kraals” declared infected and placed under quarantine, so too were they suspected of facilitating the transnational movement of Y. pestis. Angolan authorities stationed troops on their southern border to prevent the Ovambo crossings into Angolan territory, sparking confusion and violent clashes. Ultimately, this case shows how settler colonial authorities in invader societies reframed both indigenous animals and humans as invaders, justifying the extension of settler biopower and the enforcement of a hard border between nations.


Thaddeus Sunseri (Colorado State University)

The Return of Rinderpest to German East Africa, 1912-1920

This paper examines the second major wave of Rinderpest Virus (RPV) in German East Africa from 1912 through the First World War.  Originally part of the panzootic that swept Africa in the 1890s, by the turn of the century the virus had apparently burned itself out and likely become endemic in surviving cattle and wildlife populations.  The second RPV wave invaded from British East Africa and Uganda to the north, threatening cattle recovery and an important sector of the colonial economy.  The focus of this paper is on German efforts to combat the second wave in light of vastly different colonial climate compared to 1891.  Western bioscience and germ theory had made great strides since the 1890s, and a colonial veterinary infrastructure was expedited in light of the new RPV threat.  Microbiologists had begun to distinguish a panoply of enzootic cattle diseases that shared symptoms with RPV.  Whereas the 1891 epizootic came to a German colony in the process of conquest, by 1912 the colonial administration was in firm control and able to implement strict quarantines and monitoring of cattle movement across borders and internally.  Debates surrounded the need to exterminate wildlife as vectors of RPV in an age of conservation pressures to extend wildlife reserves and strengthen hunting laws.  Intrusions into African cattle-keeping polities, including the creation of a reserve for Maasai pastoralists, intersected with quarantine polices.  Despite great strides in mastering the new Rinderpest threat by 1914, the outbreak of the First World War and invasion of German East Africa by Belgian, British, and South African forces upset cattle controls, and gave new life to Rinderpest, which would persist into the 21st century.  Sources for this paper include archival materials from the German Federal Archives in Berlin-Lichterfelde and the Tanzania National Archives in Dar es Salaam.