Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine and BioMed Central.

Journal App

google play app store
Open Access Research

‘Everybody knows’, but the rest of the world: the case of a caterpillar-borne reproductive loss syndrome in dromedary camels observed by Sahrawi pastoralists of Western Sahara

Gabriele Volpato1, Antonello Di Nardo23*, Davide Rossi47, Saleh M Lamin Saleh5 and Alessandro Broglia678

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Social Sciences, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands

2 Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK

3 The Pirbright Institute, Pirbright, Woking, Surrey, UK

4 Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy

5 Sahrawi Veterinary Services, Ministry of Public Health, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Rabouni, Algeria

6 SIVtro Vétérinaires Sans Frontières, Italy, Legnaro, (PD), Italy

7 Africa ‘70 (International Non-Governmental Organization), Monza, (MI), Italy

8 Scientific Panel on Biological Hazards, European Food Safety Authority, Parma, Italy

For all author emails, please log on.

Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 2013, 9:5  doi:10.1186/1746-4269-9-5

Published: 10 January 2013

Abstract

Background

The traditional knowledge of local communities throughout the world is a valuable source of novel ideas and information to science. In this study, the ethnoveterinary knowledge of Sahrawi pastoralists of Western Sahara has been used in order to put forward a scientific hypothesis regarding the competitive interactions between camels and caterpillars in the Sahara ecosystem.

Methods

Between 2005 and 2009, 44 semi-structured interviews were conducted with Sahrawi pastoralists in the territories administered by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Western Sahara, using a snow-ball sampling design.

Results

Sahrawi pastoralists reported the existence of a caterpillar-borne reproductive loss syndrome, known locally as duda, affecting their camels. On the basis of Sahrawi knowledge about duda and of a thorough literature review, we built the hypothesis that: 1) caterpillars of the family Lasiocampidae (genera Lasiocampa, Psilogaster, or Streblote) have sudden and rare outbreaks on Acacia treetops in the Western Sahara ecosystem after heavy rainfall; 2) during these outbreaks, camels ingest the caterpillars while browsing; 3) as a consequence of this ingestion, pregnant camels have sudden abortions or give birth to weaklings. This hypothesis was supported by inductive reasoning built on circumstantiated evidence and analogical reasoning with similar syndromes reported in mares in the United States and Australia.

Conclusions

The possible existence of a caterpillar-borne reproductive loss syndrome among camels has been reported for the first time, suggesting that such syndromes might be more widespread than what is currently known. Further research is warranted to validate the reported hypothesis. Finally, the importance of studying folk livestock diseases is reinforced in light of its usefulness in revealing as yet unknown biological phenomena that would deserve further investigation.

Resumen

Todos lo saben’, menos el resto del mundo: el caso de un síndrome de pérdida reproductiva en dromedarios transmitido por orugas y observado por pastores nómadas saharauis del Sáhara Occidental.

Antecedentes

Los conocimientos tradicionales de las comunidades locales de todo el mundo son una valiosa fuente de nuevas ideas e información para la ciencia. En este estudio, se utilizaron los conocimientos de etnoveterinaria de pastores saharauis del Sáhara Occidental con el fin de proponer una hipótesis científica sobre las interacciones competitivas entre los camellos y las orugas en el ecosistema del Sáhara.

Métodos

Entre los años 2005 y 2009, se realizaron 44 entrevistas semi-estructuradas a los pastores saharauis en los territorios administrados por la República Árabe Saharaui Democrática, Sáhara Occidental, mediante un diseño de muestreo por bola de nieve.

Resultados

Los pastores nómadas saharauis describieron un síndrome reproductivo transmitido por orugas, llamado duda, entre sus camellas. Sobre la base de los conocimientos saharauis sobre el duda y una revisión literaria exhaustiva, se propuso la siguiente hipótesis: 1) brotes esporádico de orugas de la familia Lasiocampidae (géneros Lasiocampa, Psilogaster o Streblote) en árboles de Acacia se pueden presentar después de fuertes lluvias en el ecosistema del Sáhara Occidental; 2) durante estos brotes, los camellos ingieren las orugas durante el pastoreo; 3) como consecuencia de esta ingestión, se producen abortos repentinos o partos de crías debilitadas. Apoyamos esta hipótesis mediante razonamiento inductivo basado en evidencia circunstancial y razonamiento analógico con síndromes similares en yeguas de los Estados Unidos y Australia.

Conclusiones

Este es el primer reporte de la posible existencia de un síndrome de pérdida reproductiva en camellos, transmitido por orugas. Se insinúa que estos síndromes son más comunes que lo que actualmente se conoce. Se sugieren investigaciones adicionales para poner a prueba nuestra hipótesis. Finalmente, se destaca la importancia de estudios de las enfermedades del ganado en pueblos de pastores nómadas porque pueden revelar fenómenos biológicos aún desconocidos y merecen ser investigados.

Keywords:
Lasiocampidae; Abortion; Neonatal loss; Dromedary camel; Reproductive loss syndrome, Duda; MRLS; Ethnoveterinary medicine; Community-based participatory research