Pranab Kharel & Gaurab KC
Despite us being the major killers of entire humanity and life of the planet, how can we shift our guilt toward animals?
Diseases come and go. When it emerges as deadly and sinister it completely rubs out the human life. Throughout human history the outbreak of diseases has ruptured and paralyzed everyday normalcy of humankind resulting in terror, tragedies, miseries and human suffering. At the present juncture, one of our closest neighbors China (and other nations)—a country inheriting the oldest civilizational past and an aspiring global power—is suffering and struggling with disease outbreak. The death toll has risen worldwide since the virus named corona was identified and has been made public. This microbe has completely halted the everyday life and has horrified every Chinese and other survivors.
Equally, the people worldwide are frightened as to what if the similar microbe shows up in their country. Within this alarmingly dreadful situation, every individual across the globe is petrified and the states want to disassociate themselves from those countries which are battling with this pandemic. What has been shown in the fictional Hollywood movies is getting real concerning the scenes of aftereffect of the outbreak of contagious disease. The authors of this article are neither the medical practitioners nor epidemiologists or virologists. Our attempt here is to cast doubt on whom to be blamed for this kind of exploding microbes. Why is it that every time such tragedy falls upon humans, animals are the suspects?
Friend or foe?From the very start of human civilization, animals were tamed and trained by humans. They lived together where animals served humans according to the needs of the latter. Possessing large number of cattle represented the affluence or economic stature of individuals in a society. Even today one can find pastoralists and transhumance community in various societies. Across the ages humans have used animals to the hilt and have killed (are still killing) animals for various purposes. Majority of the literatures on the diseases and epidemics, which includes the seminal work of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel, depict animals to be the root cause of inducing diseases in every human history. They argue humans were exposed to diseases from the times animals were domesticated and the diseases were transmitted or spread through and by animals.
Historically it was dogs, cats, horses, cows, camels, pigs, sheep, rats, rabbits, monkeys, mosquitoes, fleas, tsetse flies and chickens that were identified to be the major culprits in inflicting disease on humans. This time bats have been considered as culprits. Majority around the globe who are not knowledgeable on medicinal and pathological issues have no option than to believe the conjecture or educated guess or even the science-based arguments. It has been reported that measles, tuberculosis, smallpox and flu get transmitted from cattle and birds where cows and pigs were claimed to be the prime cause of flu and measles.
To quickly illustrate an example, the consumption of milk is high in this region. From small children to old age people, we have all grown up by drinking cow milk. At one point of time we were warned not to drink raw cow milk because it contains high risk of bovine TV. But this doesn’t apply in the case of packaged pasteurized milk which is certified to be safe for consumption.
Similar to this, the pets were also believed to be the cause of several diseases. Thus, in the human history monkeys were considered to be the root cause of yellow fever and rats, baboons, horses and fleas were made responsible for the plague which ravaged the whole Europe and took thousands of lives at different period in history. Over the ages large numbers of animals were killed when they were suspected of carrying diseases. Sources have mentioned that during early 1990s, 4.4 million cows were killed in the UK in suspicion of carrying ‘mad cow disease’. Likewise, few years back millions of poultry and pigeons were killed across the globe in the name of ‘bird flu’. This is how the disease historiography is written. And we all read and have to accept it as a historical fact.
Prey or Predator?Studies have found humans and animals share many common diseases and just like humans the diseases too have taken the lives of animals as the epidemic outbreaks. Like other things, diseases are also named, manufactured and driven by the existing powers. Medical historian JN Hays in his book The Burdens of Disease: Epidemics and Human Response in Western History remarks that Western societies have constructed the meaning of disease and is based on the model of Western biomedicine. For Hays, humans are both preys as well as predators of diseases. Diseases in turn are both pathological reality and social construction.
In terms of studying the evolution of diseases in human history there is no uniformity among the concerned researchers. In the aforementioned book, Gerard Diamond claims that germs are prone to transmission among people living in the densely populated areas. It is the Europeans who have been living in these compact settlements for thousands of years and were highly affected by diseases. Providing the case of the death of New Guineans and Australian aborigines during the 1930s, he argues that it is the Europeans who settled in those areas and were the major cause for the death of the large number of these aboriginal people. These Europeans brought with them smallpox, influenza, measles, typhoid, typhus, chickenpox, whooping cough, tuberculosis and syphilis. In contrast to Diamond, cultural historian Sheldon Watt in his book Disease and Medicine in World History asserts that the diseases emerged in the Middle East, India and China since during the late pre-historic and early historic times where the people of these regions domesticated and were domiciled together with the cows, pigs, horses, sheep, dogs, cats and chickens.
AfterthoughtAt the basic level we all know that germs or viruses are found everywhere on earth. It is found in water, soil, air, food, in humans and animals, their urine and excreta, the waste we throw, rotten and decomposed materials, unburied corpse and carcasses etc. No one knows when germs or viruses appeared on the earth (except some complex assumptions). These are more a present day phenomenon. In judging destruction and devastation of planet earth and human kind what one needs to understand is who has damaged the earth’s ecology. Who has disturbed the life in the planet for others? Who are engaged in bloody wars? Who are involved in murders and genocides? Who is accountable for polluting planet resources? Who are causing threat to the entire planet? Of course, it’s us, the Homo sapiens or the greedy humans who are profit and power mongers. Not the animals.
It is us, the flesh lovers who separated animals from their natural habitats. Humans butchered millions of animal species in the entire history for taste and for amusement and encroached upon their territory. Now we have invented the genetically modified animals/crops and we could be responsible for major alteration in the human ecology. It is us, the humans, who are creating invisible microbes as biological weapons. Despite us being the major killers of entire humanity and life of the planet how can we shift our guilt toward animals?