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Environment and History

Sheep, Scab Mites, and Society: The Process and Politics of Veterinary Knowledge in Lesotho, Southern Africa, c. 1900-1933

Christopher R. Conz

Environment and History 26 (2020): 383-412. doi: 10.3197/096734018X15440029363690

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This paper reconstructs a sheep-dipping campaign in Lesotho, southern Africa to explore the historical dynamics between local social and political circumstances, ecological change and veterinary knowledge. African livestock owners and the British colonial government accelerated a biological transition from local breeds to non-native merino sheep in the early 1900s to produce wool. Wool-bearing sheep ushered in Psoroptes ovis, a parasitic mite that caused the skin condition called scab. Examining colonial Lesotho's anti-scab campaign from 1903 to 1933, its politics, ideas and procedures, improves our understanding of the past and present interplay between transnational science, farmers, governments and the non-human world. This case study of sheep-dipping and the wool industry that it bolstered shows, too, how people from across the social spectrum interacted within new regulatory communities under a colonial state. These communities, fraught with social cleavages of race and class, and geared towards capitalist production, coalesced during the anti-scab campaigns and formed the political, technical and ideological foundation on which subsequent development schemes were built. Chiefs, stockowners, herders, labourers and European veterinarians too participated in various ways in this process of producing and circulating knowledge, and transforming livestock practices and policies.

KEYWORDS: Lesotho, sheep, dipping, scab, veterinary knowledge, colonial history

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