Animals And Ebola

Teresa Romero, the Spanish nurse who contracted Ebola while caring for two infected priests apparently has recovered and is now free of the virus (see here). Although Romero survived Ebola, the same cannot be said of her dog, Excalibur, who wasn’t sick, but whom the authorities nevertheless put down about ten days ago. It’s too bad Excalibur had to be euthanized, but the decision was reasonable because dogs can still carry the virus even if they don’t get sick (see here).

Almost 400,000 people in Spain signed a petition to save Excalibur and, amazingly, a group of protesters actually skirmished with police when they came to take Excalibur away (see here). Let’s see, Ebola is infecting humans in Europe, Spanish unemployment stands at 25% (50% for young people), the welfare state is breaking down in Europe, and soon Iran will be in a position to point nuclear-armed missiles at Europe. And yet, the number one concern seems to be a dog. Perhaps rallying behind a dog gives people a break from their real problems.

In America, the “experts” are not worried about dogs infecting humans because pets have not been a “feature of Ebola spread” in Africa. And following the experts, Dallas city authorities decided to quarantine Bentley, the dog owned by the infected Texas nurse, Nina Pham. Quarantine may be appropriate, but it’s not unusual for liberal brilliance to result in a string of bad unintended consequences, so now we have to hope that saving Bentley will not be the start of a new string.

Concern about animals infecting humans is not misplaced. It generally is understood that human diseases originated in animals and jumped to the human population after humans began to domesticate animals and live in close proximity to them. Indeed, as America celebrated Columbus Day last week, we might remember that Spanish explorers brought old world diseases to the New World that unfortunately decimated 95% of the indigenous population for lack of immunity.

The native American populations lacked immunity to the diseases brought from Europe in the first place because they failed to domesticate animals on a scale that humans did in Europe and Asia. And they failed to domesticate animals because their ancestors killed off the large mammals that might have served as viable candidates for domestication.

Notwithstanding the Columbus Day critics, the Spanish explorers are not the only villains in the New World discovery story (if Asians had made first contact, the result would have been the same). And we also have to include the distant ancestors of the native American populations who were the prehistory equivalent of the buffalo hunters in 19th century America. The Spaniards may have been oppressors, but the indigenous people failed to manage their environment.

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