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Australian Indigenous knowledge, perception of bats and biosecurity in north-east Australia /AXA pro


This research project, initiated through the AXA research fund and continued with DIM One-Health, investigates the perception of interspecies frontiers, analysing the relations between humans and bats in the context of the Hendra zoonotic disease in north-eastern Australia. The Hendra virus (HeV) is responsible for a highly lethal zoonosis, moving between fruit bats, horses and humans, redefining the relations between these three species. In this configuration bats are designated as reservoirs for emerging infectious diseases, however they are also a keystone protected species that plays a central role in the ecological balance of Australian forests. Based on the anthropology of zoonoses and interspecies studies, this research staged in far north Queensland describes the perceptions of indigenous and non-indigenous groups in close contact with flying-foxes. The perception of distances between humans and animals has an impact on potential contamination. The human-animal proximity in local indigenous medicine, hunting practices and totemic references, reveals a complex entanglement that challenges several key concepts within the biosecurity paradigm.The totemic conception of human / animal relations reverses the view of flying foxes from a potentially pathogenic, to a potentially therapeutic species. For indigenous Australians, pathogens seem to be linked to ancestral beings, their dreaming sites and associated totemic species. Diseases originate from specific locations and move between animals and humans. Considering diseases as a “place” leads to reconsidering pathogens not as fully independent agents but rather as a web of interspecies and ecological relations within a place.The longstanding medicinal use of the host species of HeV tends to change the perception of flying foxes as the origin of the zoonosis. In a larger analysis of interspecies relations, the causality pattern of the disease does not necessarily follow the viral transmission. The causal chain doesn’t stress the initial role of bats in the zoonosis but rather brings to light the environmental disturbance triggered by an introduced animal (horse) to Australian soil, bringing into close proximity domesticated and wild species.


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