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Chapter 7 Diseases of Equids in Southeast Asia, c. 1800–c. 1945 Apocalypse or Progress? William G. Clarence-Smith Despite a proliferation of machines, the nineteenth century witnessed the golden age of the horse and the mule in the West, a phenomenon that was replicated in Asia with some variations. As in the West, equids were crucial to military power, urban transport, and elite ceremonies and sports, while playing a limited role in diet outside Central Asia. Equids were thus widely traded by sea and land. Unlike in the West, equids featured little in agriculture and forestry and were used more for pack than for draft in rural transport. However, reliance on equids persisted longer than in the West, where the harsh realities of World War I ensured the unequivocal triumph of the internal-combustion engine.1 It is surprising that historians of Southeast Asia have afforded so little attention to equids or indeed to any domestic animals, despite some recent progress.2 Underlying this neglect is the rarely questioned assumption that tropical diseases prevented the rearing of equids. Traditionally thought of as lying between India and China, Southeast Asia is better pictured as sandwiched between Tibet and Australia. Conditions typical of these two  | William G. Clarence-Smith great pastoral zones penetrate deeply into parts of Southeast Asia, notably in higher and drier areas, and relatively low human-population densities also favor the raising of animals.3 In the 1930s, Southeast Asia was estimated to contain about 1,750,000 equids. Nearly all were horses, with mules and donkeys generally restricted to the confines of China and Tibet. Mainland Southeast Asia accounted for some 650,000, chiefly bred on high plateaus and in rain-shadow plains.4 Maritime Southeast Asia contained about another 1,100,000, most intensively raised in the relatively arid Lesser Sunda Islands. Java, northern Sumatra , and southern Luzon were other significant breeding centers.5 The need to keep all these beasts alive and working was a significant concern for Southeast Asia’s rulers. Indeed, equids were a strategic commodity , given their crucial role in warfare and police duties, so that veterinary medicine emerged in the nineteenth century with a strong initial emphasis on military animals.6 Local breeds were tough little ponies, with considerable acquired resistance to prevailing ailments and an ability to thrive on local fodder, contrasting with larger and more expensive imported beasts.7 Modern methods of combating equine diseases also played an equivocal political role. Initial hecatombs were unleashed on animal populations by campaigns of “pacification,” but colonial rulers then introduced novel veterinary structures and methods as part of a wider package of “scientific progress.” That said, the racially discriminatory organization of colonial veterinary services undermined claims to legitimacy that flowed from improvements in animal health. The Curse of theTropics Of diseases specific to the tropics, none caused greater problems for equids than Trypanosoma evansi, usually known by its Indian name of surra. Provoking serious anemia in equids and camels and usually fatal if untreated, surra is less of a problem for bovids than for equids and does not affect humans. Griffith Evans discovered the trypanosome causing surra in the Punjab in 1880.8 India’s Imperial Bacteriological Laboratory then investigated surra extensively, as did Alexandre Yersin in Vietnam.9 Evans failed to explain transmission, but research on African trypanosomes directed attention to biting flies, and Rogers first scientifically described infection by tabanids in 1901.10 Reported across Asia, northern Africa, and Central and South America, surra is caused by protozoan blood parasites, transmitted mechanically by biting flies. As the parasites are almost identical to those causing Trypanosoma brucei in sub-Saharan Africa, parasitologists assume that the one evolved from the other “in the last few thousand years,” in Diseases of Equids in Southeast Asia, c. 1800–c. 1945 |  Sahelo-Sudanic environments devoid of tsetse flies.11 They further assume that surra crossed the Sahara with infected camels, probably in the first millennium CE, with Morocco as the focus of further diffusion to Asia, since the parasite tends to get longer the further east it is found.12 The numerous names for the malady in India, and the resistance developed by Indian cattle , indicate that it has been present for centuries.13 Surra probably reached China almost as quickly along the various silk roads, although the disease has been poorly investigated in an East Asian context.14 In the case of Southeast Asia, Tony Luckins views surra as part of an ecological catastrophe...


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