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Biologies of Betrayal: Judas goats and sacrificial mice on the margins of Mexico


  • Original Article

    Biologies of betrayal: Judas goats andsacrificial mice on the margins of Mexico

    Emily Mannix Wanderer

    History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society, Massachusetts Institute of Technology,77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.E-mail:

    This article has been corrected since Advance Online Publication and corrigendum is also printed in this issue.

    Abstract Invasive species are the subject of much debate and attention. Social scientific ana-lyses of alien species have focused on rhetoric about invaders, arguing that the discourse aboutinvasive species reflects how people think about nature, culture and agency. In this article, I argue fora focus not only on discourse, but also on what happens in practice in the encounter between field

    scientists and invasive animals. Through ethnographic fieldwork on Guadalupe Island in Mexico,I analyze both the place of islands in the Mexican nation and invasive species eradication programs

    as examples of care of the pest, that is, projects in which scientists carefully tend to invasiveorganisms in order to produce knowledge about them. This knowledge is then used against the

    animals to exterminate them in a biology of betrayal, and occasionally, animals are enlisted intothese projects to aid scientists in eradicating fellow members of their species. This article shows how

    changing perceptions of the value of island ecologies affected the use of the land and the fates ofthe animals on Guadalupe Island as the island was variously configured as laboratory, field site andslaughterhouse.

    BioSocieties (2015) 10, 123. doi:10.1057/biosoc.2014.13; published online 12 May 2014

    Keywords:Mexico; science studies; ecology; invasive species; multispecies; islands

    Animal Betrayals

    On Guadalupe Island, Mexico in 2007, a cohort of goats led hunters to their fellow herdmembers, revealing their hiding places in the islands inaccessible cliffs. By identifying thelocation of their conspecifics, these goats made it possible for hunters to eradicate the entiregoat population of Guadalupe. Conservationists from Grupo de Ecologa y Conservacin deIslas (GECI), a Mexican non-governmental organization, dubbed these turncoat goats Judasgoats, a name that cast their actions as a betrayal of their fellows. More than just a biblicalallusion, the name also borrows from slaughterhouse terminology; the original Judas goatswere goats deployed in stockyards to bring sheep from their pens to be slaughtered. After aperiod of apprenticeship as kids, Judas goats would lead generations of sheep to slaughter(Umland, 1941). On Guadalupe the hunters sterilized and tagged Judas goats with radio

    2015 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 1745-8552 BioSocieties Vol. 10, 1,

  • transmitters, making them key instruments in GECIs project to rid the island of invasivespecies. Goats had been one of the most destructive of the invasives on the island and theirremoval was a crucial step in the effort to return the island to its state before the arrival ofhumans. While the goats were the most visible of the alien species on the island, they were notthe only ones. As I learned when I traveled to Guadalupe myself in 2011, the fields also hid asubstantial population of field mice who proliferated after arriving as shipboard stowawaysand who would become the target of subsequent eradication projects. In what follows, I willtell the tale of how mice and goats are managed, exterminated and woven into stories aboutthe Mexican nation.Writing on invasive species has primarily addressed the question of discourse and

    definitions, looking at how scientists and others identify organisms as native or invasive. Theway groups categorize, define and make distinctions about biological entities can reflect howthey think about nature and culture, as well as non-human and human agency (Helmreich,2005). These categorizations are shaped by political, economic and social concerns (Bulmer,1967; Takacs, 1996; Mansfield, 2003; Lowe, 2006). More specifically, social scientists haveargued that the rhetoric about invasive species is shaped by fears about the movement of capital,commodities and people, and related fears of outsiders taking over a country or contaminating apreviously pure environment (Tomes, 1997; Comaroff and Comaroff, 2001). Definitions ofexotic, invasive and native species in Mexico focus on potential harms to biodiversity, theeconomy and public health. For example, the Mexican National Strategy for Invasive Species,an important planning document developed by the federal governments National Commissionfor the Study and Use of Biodiversity (Comisin Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de laBiodiversidad or CONABIO) in collaboration with members of the military and non-govern-mental organizations including GECI, gives definitions of key terms. The strategy defines nativespecies as those naturally found in a region as a result of a long process of adaptation to theexisting environmental conditions, while alien species, on the other hand, are species occurringoutside of their past or present natural range. Invasive species are a special subset of alien speciesthat are distinguished both for their capability to establish long-term populations in an area andthe threat that they pose to the health of native life forms and the Mexican economy (ComitAsesor Nacional sobre Especies Invasoras, 2010, p. 3).In general, the rhetoric in Mexico about invasives and the threats they pose is dramatic. The

    National Institute of Ecology (Instituto Nacional de Ecologa) referred to them as one of thefour horsemen of the apocalypse (lvarez Romero et al, 2008, p. 5).1 A typical news reporthighlighted how invasive animals have damaged the Mexican economy, arguing that thearrival of exotic fish has caused the social fabric to disintegrate. Delinquency has risen andnow there are serious security problems. All because of an invasive species.2 The invasivespecies in question, tilapia, were described as voracious, genetically programmed to eateverything they can, excessively fertile African animals, that were like a horde of rodentsthat does not fear humans they jump and fight to get any food they are thrown (Cruz, 2011).3

    1 Cuatro Jinetes del Apocalipsis.2 Comenz a desintegrarse el tejido social. Subi la delincuencia y hoy hay un problema grave de seguridad.Todo como consecuencia de una especie invasora.

    3 Voraz, est programado genticamente para comer todo lo que pueda este animal africano,excesivamente frtil . similares a una horda de roedores, no temen al ser humano y saltan y se peleanpara obtener cualquier alimento que se les arroja.


    2 2015 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 1745-8552 BioSocieties Vol. 10, 1, 123

  • The panicked language used to describe plant and animal invasions reflects nativism inconservation biology, nationalism, fears about immigration, and anxiety over changingeconomic and gender norms. (Tomes, 1997; Brown and Sax, 2004; Subramaniam, 2005).In what follows, I suggest that social scientific analyses of alien and invasive species

    eradication programs would benefit from closer attention to how species meet (Haraway,2008) in these encounters. By looking at practice in addition to discourse, I argue that we candiscern new kinds of animalhuman and animalanimal connections in the making in invasivespecies research. Animals are not mere symbols in invasive species politics, but are actorsentangled with humans (cf. Haraway, 2008; Kirksey and Helmreich, 2010). In laboratory-based research, model organisms such as mice and Drosophila have become key elements ofthe material culture of biology, described by Kohler (1994) as technological artifacts that areconstructed and embedded in complex material and social systems of production (pp. 56).Animals transform as they enter the laboratory; they are domesticated, standardized andcommoditized. Scientists selectively breed animals so that their characteristics are knownand regularized, and intervene in their lives until they resemble instruments and part ofthe lab apparatus. As model organisms, they are turned into scientific instruments andresearch tools, while at the same time laboratory ecologies are constructed around theparticularities of their biology (Kohler, 1994; Haraway, 1997; Rader, 2004; White, 2006;Friese and Clark, 2012). Kohler (1994) argues that laboratory organisms should betreated as constructed artifacts, no less than physical instruments, and as tools forinvestigation rather than as objects to be investigated (p. 127). As tools, model organismsin experimental systems stand in for human biology, or shed light on more generalizedbiological processes. Lynch (1988) writes of sacrificing animals in the laboratory, aprocess by which scientists transform animals from naturalistic animals of everydayexperience into analytic objects, or legible data (p. 266). As data, these sacrificedanimals are generalizable exemplars of biological processes rather than individuals.Models more generally are embodiments of action and practice that constitute thekinds of scientific questions that can be asked and how those questions can be answered(Friese, 2009).On Guadalupe, biologists dealt with unwanted invaders, problem animals. Working

    alongside these scientists as a participant-observer, I saw them engaging in what I call thecare of the pest, carefully tending to exotic invaders in order to produce knowledge abouttheir characteristics and social behavior, knowledge that would then be turned against theseanimals in what I will term a biology of betrayal. There were multiple betrayals at work onGuadalupe, and these betrayals took different forms. A betrayal can be a conscious decision,but in addition to intentional violations of trust, betrayals can be accidental exposures


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