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The politics of animal diseases amongst nomadic herders in Mongolia/ AXA project

2013 - 2016



Since the fall of the communist regime in 1990, the Mongolian government has set up a centralized system of animal disease surveillance, inherited from the communist period but diminished by the lack of infrastructures, qualified professionals and financial means. On a vast territory (2.5 times the size of France), this system has been supplemented since the beginning of the 2000s by a localized surveillance system, in the forefront of which are the nomadic herders, who take over from the private veterinarians, henceforth too few and too expensive. For the management of contagious animal diseases, such as brucellosis (a bacterial and zoonotic disease, endemic), anthrax (a zoonotic bacterial disease, localized in non-desert provinces, and whose cutaneous form is widespread throughout the country) and foot-and-mouth disease (a non-zoonotic viral disease, chronic and paralyzing the country’s economy), the Mongolians combine different knowledge and techniques, without opposing them, prioritizing them, or ranking them.In the daily contacts with their domestic animals, the herders detect as soon as possible the first “visible” symptoms on and/or in the body of the contaminated animals. Herders and their herds live in contact with microbes, entities invisible to the naked eye. Some microbes are considered “bad” and they are sometimes sent by angry spiritual entities, such as the master spirits of nature or the wandering souls of the dead. To deal with them, the herders mobilize different systems of care, including local treatments inherited from generation to generation, and simultaneously call upon different specialists: shaman, Buddhist monk, bonesetter, private veterinarian trained in Russia, in Europe, and more recently also in Mongolia. However, some of them hesitate to notify the veterinary authorities of the appearance of symptoms because, for these three highly contagious diseases, the measures put in place are radical and economically heavy. The massive or partial slaughter of the herd and the total or partial vaccination of the animals can lead to the loss or abandonment of the nomadic way of life and subsistence. The Mongolian government has deployed military troops to control human and non-human populations, keep humans in quarantine, and cull domestic and wild animal herds. These measures lead herders to distrust the government and private veterinarians and to value local knowledge and treatment.


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