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Vol 5 No 3 (2018): Zoonosis: Prospects and challenges for medical anthropology

Dealing with highly contagious animal diseases under neoliberal governmentality in Mongolia

  • Sandrine Ruhlmann
March 17, 2016
June 25, 2018


In Mongolia, since the collapse of communism in 1990, the government has implemented a centralized system of veterinary care inherited from the Communist period that suffers from inadequate infrastructures. Highly contagious diseases chronically re-emerge, undermining the country, its economy, and the way of life of its affected inhabitants. Since the early 2000s, the government has put in place a new surveillance system that relies on nomadic herders as ‘sentinels’. These herders combine popular perceptions and treatments of animal diseases with some veterinary practices and international standards of surveillance and control. But they sometimes refuse to cooperate with private veterinarians or report symptoms, out of a lack of trust in the system of financial compensation for culled herds, compensation that – if sufficient – would enable them to maintain a substantial herd and a nomadic way of life. This article argues that Mongolia constitutes a sort of laboratory to study a neoliberal governmentality toward animal diseases, where the capacities to manage diseases that spread across species (wild/domestic, animal/human) and political borders (regional, national, continental) are delegated to local actors (nomadic herders) who resort to compromises in order to address tensions with political leaders regarding how to control highly contagious animal diseases.