biologies of betrayal

Original Article Biologies of betrayal: Judas goats and sacrificial 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: [email protected] 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 about invasive species reflects how people think about nature, culture and agency. In this article, I argue for a 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 invasive organisms 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 into these 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 of the animals on Guadalupe Island as the island was variously configured as laboratory, field site and slaughterhouse. 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 herd members, revealing their hiding places in the islands inaccessible cliffs. By identifying the location of their conspecifics, these goats made it possible for hunters to eradicate the entire goat population of Guadalupe. Conservationists from Grupo de Ecología y Conservación de Islas (GECI), a Mexican non-governmental organization, dubbed these turncoat goats Judas goats, a name that cast their actions as a betrayal of their fellows. More than just a biblical allusion, the name also borrows from slaughterhouse terminology; the original Judas goats were goats deployed in stockyards to bring sheep from their pens to be slaughtered. After a period 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, 123

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


Page 1: Biologies of Betrayal

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: [email protected]

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, 1–23. 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 island’s 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 Ecología y Conservación 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

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transmitters, making them key instruments in GECI’s 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 government’s National Commissionfor the Study and Use of Biodiversity (Comisión 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 (ComitéAsesor 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 Ecología) referred to them as one of “thefour horsemen of the apocalypse” (Álvarez 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 “Comenzó a desintegrarse el tejido social. Subió la delincuencia y hoy hay un problema grave de seguridad.

Todo como consecuencia de una especie invasora”.3 “Voraz, está programado genéticamente para comer todo lo que pueda … este animal africano,

excesivamente fértil … . similares a una horda de roedores, no temen al ser humano y saltan y se peleanpara obtener cualquier alimento que se les arroja”.


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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 animal–human and animal–animal 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. 5–6).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 the‘care 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. In thecase of goat eradications, while goats did not intentionally assist scientists with the destructionof their fellow herd members, they did betray their existence and make their exterminationpossible. While the goats betrayed one another, they were also betrayed by the scientists whoworked with and cared for them until the time came to destroy the herd. These betrayals arethe counterpart or consequence of the scientists’ larger loyalties. On Guadalupe, care andloyalty to the island as a whole entailed betraying the goats and mice that were damaging theisland’s ecosystem. Scientists first cared for and learned about the goats and mice, developingindividualized relationships with the animals that were different from those developed inlaboratories, where scientists are trained to see the animals they use as standardized tools

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(Birke et al, 2007). On Guadalupe, people destroyed in order to preserve, betraying theinvasive species on the island in the service of what Leopold (1999) termed “the health ofthe land”, that is, the ecosystem’s ability to sustain itself. Protecting the health of the landmeant taking into account ecological relationships. While the goats had been of practicaluse for people on the island as a food source, attention to the total processes of anecosystem meant that scientists had to eliminate certain organisms for the greater health ofthe island.Goats and mice on Guadalupe, their histories, the changes they brought to the landscape

and their transforming relationships with humans are useful subjects for thinking about whatKosek (2006) calls “the consequential materiality of nature”, the agency of nonhuman actors,and differences in interspecies relationships over time (p. 23). Kirksey and Helmreich chartthe emergence of anthropological work in which nonhuman life of all sorts appears“alongside humans in the realm of bios, with legibly biographical and political lives”.These works examine “the host of organisms whose lives and deaths are linked to humansocial worlds” (Kirksey and Helmreich, 2010, p. 545). A close look at the practice ofinvasive species eradications and the care of the pest highlights how lives of nonhumananimals shift between bios and zoe, as animals are at one minute individuals with namesand personalities toward which scientists feel responsibility and at the next are pests to beeradicated (Agamben, 1998).In this article I draw on ethnographic fieldwork to analyze how animals on Guadalupe were

incorporated into scientific practice. I look at the place of islands in the Mexican nation andchanging attitudes about the value of island ecosystems in Mexico through a history of goatson Guadalupe. As perceptions about the importance of native life forms changed, peopleworking on the island reconfigured the space from slaughterhouse to field site to laboratory,changes that had important consequences for human–animal interactions. The article thenturns to the multispecies relationships produced in current research on mice on the island.Telling the story of eradication in practice in Guadalupe permits me to ask about theparticular organisms at issue: goats and mice. Moreover, I am able to track how thesecreatures are variously enlisted into consumption, laboratory and field practices, adding hereto literature in the history of science and science studies that examines the role and status ofanimals in laboratory-based scientific research by comparing the ways in which the fates andlives of animals on Guadalupe transformed as the island and people engaged with them asfood sources, instruments of knowledge production and wild animals.

Slaughterhouse, Field Site, Laboratory

In November of 2011, I traveled with five employees of GECI to Guadalupe, a volcanic island241 km off the coast of Baja California Norte and the westernmost point of the Mexicannation. We went as part of GECI’s continuing research on island flora and fauna, both nativeand invasive, and to assist with their efforts to reconstruct a past natural order. GECI is anNGO based out of Ensenada on the Baja California peninsula. Although relatively small,GECI sends field biologists to islands throughout Mexico, coordinating projects to eradicateinvasive species, monitor ecosystems and foster native species. Guadalupe is GECI’s mostlongstanding project, one of many years duration. Their research focuses on both the removal


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of the invasive populations of goats, mice and cats and on the restoration of native plant andbird life. While historic efforts to revegetate ecosystems often focused primarily on restoringthe productivity of the land, even if that meant planting new exotic species, GECI’s efforts torestore the land were much more minimalist (Hall, 2001). Rather than attempting to gardenwild areas or improve on nature through the addition of new plants, the goal was to allow theecosystem to regenerate itself. Sometimes the removal of invasive herbivores leads to‘ecological kickback’, the rapid growth of invasive vegetation, but prior to the eradication,GECI had constructed fenced areas that goats could not enter, and had established that simplyremoving the goats would allow native vegetation to grow again.Guadalupe is remote, and human access is limited. In addition to the scientists from GECI

and CONABIO, the only people permitted to visit are the approximately 100 members of thefishing cooperative and a small deployment of the Mexican Navy stationed on the island. Thesegroups are confined to a small settlement and a garrison at one end of the 37 by 8.5 km island.One scientist at GECI told me that the island is “like a gigantic laboratory”, a claim reinforcedby the island’s isolation and limited access. This, in addition to the relatively simple ecosystem,gives scientists a degree of control over this field site that is impossible on the mainland.Scientists are free to experiment with the ecosystem and act as if the island is, as Kohler (2002)described the ideal laboratory, “a world apart from the world” (p. 7). Animals are a normalfeature of many biology laboratories, where they are carefully tended up to the moment of theirsacrifice so that they may produce information about biology more broadly. In field experimentson Guadalupe, where animals remade the landscape and where animals betrayed one another,different kinds of cross-species encounters developed. While the island is represented as alaboratory, the animals on Guadalupe diverge from the “furry test tubes” that experimentalorganisms in the laboratory resemble (Birke et al, 2007, p. 12). On Guadalupe, scientificpractice with animals was complicated as animals were variously lab instruments, wildcreatures, collaborators and meat, as people transformed the island between slaughterhouse,field site and laboratory. The lives and fates of the animals varied according to whether theisland was an experimental place, an ecosystem to be protected or a source of food.Scientists from GECI engaged with the island as both a field site and laboratory. Crossing

the terrain between lab and field, they moved from intervening and experimenting with theecosystem and producing data and results generalizable to the world at large, to describingand mapping Guadalupe as a unique ecosystem. Techniques of intervention and goals ofworking in a field site diverge from laboratory work. Field sites are located in areas where theecosystem presents characteristics of interest to the scientist, in this case a high concentrationof imperiled endemic species. While the laboratory is an epistemically advantageous spacebecause it allows scientists to isolate the phenomena of interest from the rest of the world(Knorr Cetina, 1992), the field site enables scientists to study events or objects of interest in themessy and unruly context in which they are usually found. As a result, field practices aredesigned to minimize disruption and to observe what is already present. In this context, theanimals of Guadalupe are less research tools than subjects of research themselves. Whileanimals in the agricultural system and in the laboratory are subject to intensive interventionsin breeding, mobility, habitat and diet, in the field animals are subject to fewer interventionsand controls. Rather than easily manipulable, accessible and standardized, they are interestingfor their autonomy and their ability to act independently of human control. In the field,animals are less predictable and more individualized than in the laboratory.

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While scientists configured Guadalupe as lab and field, the island figured historically and inpresent day Ensenada as a feedlot and proto-slaughterhouse, where meat goats descendedfrom a population left on the island by whalers in the 1800s were free for the taking. Theisland’s isolation and the wildness of the goats, while limiting the efficiency of food prod-uction, also minimized human interaction with the animals and was a way to exile slaughter tothe edges of human experience. Slaughter and animal sacrifice have been historically a spaceof public secrecy, organized on the margins of cities to keep the sights, sounds and smells awayfrom the public (Shukin, 2009). While in a field site the objective is to observe a wild animalengaged unimpeded or interrupted in its activities, a slaughterhouse represents the oppositeextreme of engagement with animals. Animals are deindividualized units of meat that need tobe moved with maximum efficiency and invisibility to their final destination as food. Whileanimal life in contemporary agriculture is rigidly organized, from the moment of often highlytechnologized breeding up to the death of the animal and the conversion of the carcass intomeat, goats on Guadalupe were always feral and meat production was never highly organizedor particularly efficient.

Islands and the Nation

The importance of the islands has not only transformed over time but is also contested in thepresent day, as different modes of valuing a place and of relating to animals come into play onGuadalupe. The official position of the federal government is that the islands are “a valuablenational patrimony” in terms of the important marine resources they offer and because theyare “an irreplaceable natural capital in terms of biodiversity” (Aguirre-Muñoz et al, 2012,p. 12).4 They are a “strategic resource of great value to the country” because they contributeto biodiversity and economic development (ibid., p. 18).5 This position resonates withattitudes toward conservation and land protection in Mexico that reach back to the post-revolutionary period, when the government began establishing parks as resources for thenation. In contrast with the United States, where the establishment of parks was orientedtoward protecting pristine areas, in Mexico early conservation efforts focused on restoringdegraded environments. The first parks in Mexico tended to protect forests and areas thatwere easily accessible for public enjoyment, places that had immediately apparent economic,recreational and biological value (Simonian, 1995; Wakild, 2009; Wakild, 2012). WhileGuadalupe differs from the parks that were established in the post-revolutionary periodbecause it is not publically accessible, GECI’s work is similar to early conservation efforts inthat it focuses on repairing a damaged ecosystem.The federal conservation strategy for Guadalupe clearly lays out the government’s

perception of the value of the island, interpreting it as a storehouse of biodiversity andbiodiversity as a commodity or resource to be used, reading nature as ‘capital incarnate’ thatmust be secured against being destroyed or wasted, in this case by non-valuable species(Shukin, 2009, p. 80). However, this is only one perspective on the value of the ecosystem. Thepeople on the island, particularly the GECI personnel, held alternate values and ways of

4 “Un valioso patrimonio nacional … un irremplazable capital natural en términos de biodiversidad”.5 “Un recurso estratégico de gran valor para el país”.


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relating with animals and the environment. As one scientist at GECI told me, “if you areempathetic with the conditions of Mexico, it is very important that nature provides services andgoods to the community ... [conservation] is not only about nature by itself, but also aboutnature being used”. However, he went on to clarify that it was essential that nature was used ina way that distributed income more equitably in Mexico. For GECI, this meant supporting theisland’s fishing cooperative, which produced income for local residents, rather than national orinternational corporations. The idea of making economic use of the island’s biodiversity was notpart of their work. They rejected efforts to turn the island into an ecotourist destination or tomake the island’s biodiversity available for the neoliberal management and industrial develop-ment schemes described by Hayden (2003) in her analysis of bioprospecting in Mexico, on thegrounds that these projects tended to concentrate wealth in the hands of a limited number ofpeople. In the course of caring for the health of the island, scientists from GECI formedmultispecies relationships that entangled them with invasive and native species in ways notcalled for or predicted by national strategies or the logics of capital (Figure 1).I also wish to argue here that understanding the Mexican setting of this research matters for

how land and animals are apprehended, examined and, in the end, eradicated. WhileGuadalupe is remote from the mainland and on the geographic periphery of Mexico, islandsare central to the identity of the nation. Take, counterintuitively, Mexico City. Although themegalopolis is landlocked in the geographic center of the nation, it was founded on an island.The Mexican coat of arms shows an eagle devouring a snake while perched on a nopal cactus

Figure 1: Isla Guadalupe.Source: Author photograph.

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growing from a cluster of rocks. The image represents the mythic founding of Tenochtitlán,the center of the Aztec empire, on an island in Lake Texcoco. As the story goes, after years ofwandering the Aztecs encountered the eagle, which they interpreted as a divine command tobuild their city on that spot. Tenochtitlán eventually became Mexico City, and the choice ofthis moment as a national symbol puts Aztec identity at the heart of national identity, elidingthe presence of Mexico’s many other indigenous groups.The symbol is part of a nationalist discourse asserting the centralized identity of the

nation, establishing Mexico City as not only the spatial center of the nation, but also therightful spiritual and governmental center of the nation (Alonso, 2004; Chorba, 2007).However, the symbol is multivalent, representing not only Aztec identity and the centralityof Mexico City, but also depicting islands as vital to national identity. Alfonso Aguirre, thedirector of GECI, points out that this symbol depicts the founding of the Mexican nation astaking place on an island, and argues that the symbol is an example of how islands form“an essential part of Mexican historic identity” (Aguirre-Muñoz et al, 2011, p. 387). Theislet on which the eagle was perched “became Mexico City, the geographical and politicalcentre of the current country” (ibid., p. 387). He positions islands as a key element inMexican identity. Islands have often been imagined as points of origins or spaces in whichthe past can be preserved or recovered (Gillis, 2009). Guadalupe is seen as a link to both theecological and social past. For ecologists, the island holds the promise of recovering a lostecosystem, while the fishing cooperative is the ocean-going equivalent of the ejido landgrants that provided communal land to peasants. These grants were a key part ofthe Mexican revolution and a link to social reforms that have mostly been reversed duringthe neoliberal era. Guadalupe is a contemporary example of the ways in which islands canbe both models and exceptions of legal and social order, through the continued existence ofan institution that is idealized but has primarily been relegated to the past on the mainland(Benton, 2010) (Figure 2).In Mexico the majority of the islands are federal property and seen as patrimony of the

nation. National patrimony and inalienable, collective possessions have been central to thelegitimization of the nation in Mexico (Ferry, 2005). While the islands have long beenconceived of as having value for the nation, what constitutes the value or wealth of the islandshas transformed over the years, as have conceptions of what constitutes a risk or a threat. In adifferent context, Lentzos (2006) has proposed that we might denaturalize biorisks by locatingthem “within the problem spaces, political rationalities, and thought communities that bringthem into reality as problems to attend to” (p. 463). Historically, Guadalupe’s value wasperceived primarily in terms of its usefulness in turning animals into products, whether as asite from which to hunt marine mammals, fish or raise goats. The health of the ecosystem as awhole was of little importance. As a result, goats were seen as a benefit to the island and thepeople in the surrounding area and were not yet thought of as a threat requiring a response.GECI’s project to eliminate invasive species represents a transformation in the culturalselection of what threats should be the focus of attention, or indeed, what threats are evenvisible as risks. As constructivist theorists of risk have highlighted, the choices that we make ofrisks to focus on reflect culturally specific ideas and ways of seeing the world (Douglas andWildavsky, 1982; Douglas, 1992; Luhmann, 1993; Lupton, 1999). Changes in science, localneeds and the growing emphasis on the health of the land and the value of biodiversity madethe risks of alien species visible.


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Judas Goats

The first recorded sighting of Guadalupe was by Sebastián Vizcaíno in 1602 on a voyagesponsored by the viceroy of New Spain to study and map the California peninsula and itssurroundings (Jordán, 1987; Comisión Nacional de Áreas Protegidas, 2009). Since Vizcaíno’sfirst sighting of the island, visitors have portrayed it as a sterile, inhospitable wasteland.Sealers arrived on the island toward the end of the eighteenth century, leaving in the early1830s after they had slaughtered nearly all the fur seals (Huey, 1925). In 1837, the Frenchadmiral Abel du Petit-Thuoars described the island as little more than a strategic stoppingpoint for galleons traveling to Acapulco from the Philippines (Comisión Nacional de ÁreasProtegidas, 2009). Whalers from Russia, Britain, the United States and New Zealand in the1800s sought to make it a more fruitful refreshment station by importing a population ofgoats which voraciously consumed the island’s vegetation. As the goats on the islandflourished, Guadalupe became both a source of meat and a base of operations for seafaringhunters of cetaceans (Huey, 1925). The increasing goat population was destructive to thenative vegetation, radically changing the island’s ecosystem (cf. Melville, 1994 on theconsequences of the introduction of grazing animals to Mexican ecosystems).In 1919, British naturalist Frederic W. Jones was mesmerized by the unloading of several

hundred wild goats onto the municipal pier at San Diego. Hoisted by their horns from thedeck of theGryme, “each bunch of cud-chewers presented a sorry spectacle as they dangled inmidair, with no apparent destination or clue on which to base hope for a much needed reliefand their bulging glassy eyes seemed about ready to burst from their sockets” (Jones, 1919,p. 2). Intrigued by the dramatic arrival of the goats, Jones tracked them to their origin point on

Figure 2: Mexican coat of arms.Source: Mexican coat of arms vectorized by Alex Covarrubias. Accessed,

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Isla Guadalupe. “Following the precedent of Adam and Eve – after many years, Billie andNannie Goat are said to have settled on Guadalupe Island and their descendants of Billies andNannies, through many generations, have in all probability, numbered into the millions bythis time” (ibid., p. 9). By this time, shepherds were making systematic use of the goats,trapping them in corrals when they came to drink from the island’s spring and shipping themto San Diego, where they would be sent on to the slaughterhouses and meatpackingcompanies of Los Angeles. At this moment, Guadalupe and its sparse vegetation were beingmade productive resources as a feedlot for wild goats.Jones found the masses of goats to be for the most part indistinguishable, with

the exception of one noteworthy goat named Monte Cristo, who had once been corralledby the shepherds but leapt from a San Diego bound boat and swam back to Guadalupe,where he devoted his “career to the furtherance of the highest interests of his fellow goats”(ibid., p. 24). A sociable animal, he thwarted the efforts of the herding gangs, marshaling theother goats, watching for the appearance of boats and keeping goats away from the springwhere they might be trapped, until he was finally captured himself. Jones admiringly wrotethat even in captivity “he remained obdurate and still possessed his indomitable will”(ibid., p. 24). Jones asserted that in his photograph Monte Cristo “appears quite resigned,although, were his inner consciousness exposed and expression given to his thoughts theremight be revealed, the words made immortal by our old friend, Patrick Henry: ‘Give meliberty or give me death’ ” (ibid., p. 24).Monte Cristo’s behavior, as fanciful as Jones’ narrative of it was, is indicative of

characteristics of goat sociality and agency that became important for GECI. While MonteCristo was a hero for Jones, rescuing his fellow goats, by 2004 GECI would seek to use thevery kind of goat sociality that Monte Cristo demonstrated against the goats themselves. InJune of that year, GECI began an eradication project, an effort to eliminate every goat fromGuadalupe so that native life forms, particularly plants and forests, would regenerate.Mammals are the most frequent targets of eradication efforts internationally and are oftenthought to be the primary causes of extinction and ecosystem changes on islands (Cruz et al,2009). For island conservationists, the goats were no longer heroes, nor were they usefulsources of food. Instead, they were invasive species in need of eradication. As the island beganto be seen as an important as a repository of biodiversity and a site of remarkable naturalbeauty, the economic and food value of the goats lessened in significance. Recuperating thenative plant and bird populations of Guadalupe for their esthetic, ecological and genetic valuebecame more important than making use of the island as grazing land for goats. Shiftingpriorities in Mexico changed the way that people framed and understood the landscape anddetermined the fate of the goats.The goats left on Guadalupe had indeed been transformative and significant agents of

ecological change. Gabriel,6 the current director of GECI’s project on Guadalupe, told me thatwhen they first started their work:

The island was full of goats, ... goats that were here because European boats wouldbring the goats to have a food supply. But the whalers stopped coming back to the islandbecause they exterminated the population of fur seals, but the goats stayed. There

6 All interviewees are identified by pseudonyms in this article.


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started to be more goats all the time, and more goats, and more goats, and for somepeople they were convenient.

(Interview with the author, 2011)

Left by hunters of marine mammals to their own devices, the goat population grew and thegoats consumed much of the island’s vegetation, reducing the size of the forest of cypress,cedar and pine trees unique to the island. One scientist highlighted the dramatic nature of thischange, noting that “It was quite a collapse. It was close to extinction”, with only 85 ha leftout of an original forest of 8000 ha (Interview with the author, 2011). Along with the goats,whalers had accidentally deposited populations of cats and mice, which decimated native birdpopulations and “became another plague that was impossible to destroy” (Jordán, 1987). Thecats ate all the birds, “and what the goats and cats didn’t destroy, the mice did” (ibid.). Theseinvasive species did damage to what biologists now see as a landscape populated by raregenetic treasures (Oberbauer, 2005).As we approached the island after an 18-hour journey from Ensenada in one of the Mexican

Navy’s ocean patrol vessels, I scanned the steep cliffs for signs of life, for traces left by goats oreven just vegetation, but the rocky coasts were stark and uninhabited. I looked for thebiological treasures and flourishing ecosystem that I expected, trying to match up the picturesof Guadalupe crowded with wildlife that I had seen in reports on the island with the gray cliffsahead of me. I knew that the teeming herds that Jones had seen were gone, and ultimately, myonly encounter with goats came a few days after we arrived. Exploring the island, we found adeep cavern with a cache of goat bones, including a headless carcass. The dry air hadmummified it, leaving leathery skin stretched tight over its ribs. Although the goats had beeneradicated, their traces remained on the island: this carcass, and the grassy fields left after theydevoured the trees.The few people who visit Guadalupe remember when goats were plentiful. After we had

been on the island for 2 weeks, a pilot arrived in a small Cesna painted with an insignia of agoat with two long, curved horns. Adriana, the former director of the Guadalupe project and adoctoral student in ecology, Gabriel and I met him at the landing strip, a long dirt patch with adotted white line painted down the middle, to pick up supplies. While we helped him unloadthe plane, the pilot commented to Adriana that whenever he comes to Guadalupe people wantto know if he will bring them back a goat to Ensenada for a barbecue. Adriana laughed, butlater she sighed over his comment. This was one of the challenges for the goat eradicationproject. People had gotten used to making use of the goats on the island and to bringing themback for parties on the mainland. She said Guadalupe was legendary – you could go there, geta goat, free! And people did not want to give that up. Her comment reflects a moment ofshifting priorities for people who managed the island, as its value as a proto-slaughterhousebegan to be overshadowed by its ecological value.People in Ensenada resisted this change and the idea of eliminating goats was not

immediately popular. Over centuries, goats had become part of the landscape of Guadalupeand the social life of nearby residents. While GECI looked back to pre-whaler times, doingarcheology of the island to establish the ‘original’ or pre-invasion conditions, in the historicalmemory of the people on the island and in Ensenada, goats and Guadalupe were intertwinedand meant to be together. “There was opposition on all sides” to the eradication, Adrianarecalled (Interview with the author, 2011). Adriana clarified that people did not frame their

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protest in terms of animal rights, but rather as a waste of a valuable resource: “There were stilla lot of people that came to take goat meat… . It makes more sense to buy a goat in Ensenada,but people didn’t see that because they say, ‘okay, on the island they are free, and it’s nothingmore than a question of going and grabbing one, no?’ ”People were not concerned that the goats would be killed, but rather that a valuable

renewable resource would be wasted. Adriana explained:

There were always animals on the island. When people took goats, they left females oryoung behind because yes, they wanted to use them, but also to leave some to sustain thepopulation on the island. They weren’t going to finish off the population; they thought itwas important to maintain it. And there are some people who still believe that the goatsare an important genetic resource because the animals are very resilient and they haveadapted to the environment. They think the goats are like a new breed, and they saidyou have to protect it, care for it, how can you eradicate it?

(Interview with the author, 2011)

On the island as slaughterhouse, the goats are generally not individualized (with theexception of the rare character like Monte Cristo) beyond the most general characteristicsof sex, age and breed. A 1998 report on the problems of food production in Mexico andthe importance of conserving domestic animal diversity in Mexico called for the preserva-tion of the 20 autochthonous species of domestic animals identified by the Food andAgriculture Organization of the United Nations (Sierra, 1998). The feral goats of IslaGuadalupe were identified as one of Mexico’s two native breeds of goats. This identifica-tion of the goats as a native breed initially posed a problem for eradication projects. A pre-eradication report on the state of the island’s vegetation noted that some of the federalagencies with authority over the island were resistant to the eradication project becausethey considered the goats a positive addition to the island, and “a valuable resource withunique genetic characteristics (a breed of goats specifically adapted for difficult condi-tions), that could be exported and used for human populations that needed alternativesources of food”.7 The report went on to dismiss this argument as illogical, since thevalue of the goat breed could not compare with the value of the native and endemic plants(León de la Luz et al, 2005).Despite the claims like these, Adriana argued that it was obvious that the goats needed to be

eliminated. “You saw the island, and you realized, even if you didn’t know the island beforeand weren’t a specialist, you saw old trees falling, you saw the island totally bare where thereused to be grass, the damage had an emotional impact. Anyone who came to the island couldsee that something is happening. And that you have to rescue what’s left” (Interview with theauthor, 2011). Adriana’s commentary about the emotional impact and the need to rescue theisland is a characteristic example of the way that scientists on Guadalupe simultaneously were

7 “Algunas de estas dependencias incluso han considerado a las cabras como una consecuencia positiva alverlas como un recurso valioso con germoplasma único (la especificidad de una raza de cabras adaptada acondiciones difíciles), que puede ser exportado y utilizado por las poblaciones humanas que necesitanalternativas de alimentación. Sin embargo, este argumento no es realmente lógico. El valor de este nuevo“linaje” (germoplasma) de cabras no es comparable con la naturaleza única de las plantas nativas yendémicas de Isla Guadalupe”.


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engaged in observing and caring for the island as well as exterminating. The act of eliminatingthe goats was part of her work of caring for the island as a whole, of thinking ecologically.GECI planned to eradicate the goats from the island first by replicating shepherds’ earlier

method of corralling the goats at the spring. However, while corralling the goats was anefficient way to gather a large group for slaughter, it is ineffective as an eradication methodsince not all goats will come to the corrals of their own volition. In addition, the characteristicsof goats that made them appealing to sailors as food sources and that made them suchsuccessful invaders also made them difficult to eradicate. They have a low metabolism, theythrive on a wide variety of plants, have efficient digestion, low water requirements and a highreproductive rate. In order to effectively eradicate them, GECI needed to learn about andmake use of goat tendencies and goat behavior.On an early reconnaissance trip, Adriana followed José Antonio, a professional hunter who

has been working for GECI for many years, as he tracked goats on Guadalupe. “Back thenthere were still goats, many goats”, she said. “So he placed traps, and I went with him andwatched how he placed them. I started to get interested in the knowledge that you have to haveof the animal that you are eventually going to eradicate. To know how to control them”

(Interview with the author, 2011). Learning about the goats was key to developing effectiveeradication strategies that made use of goat behavior in order to eliminate them. In order tokill, scientists had to have knowledge of the goats, to know how they lived, where they wentand what their behaviors were. They had to care for the pests that they were working toeliminate. Ultimately, they found that they could not track the goats well enough to hunt themall, since goats know things that humans do not. They can sense each other and locate eachother more efficiently than humans ever could. Consequently, in order to track down all thegoats on Guadalupe scientists had to recruit goats themselves into the eradication plan,turning them into biological instruments that would betray their fellow herd members as‘Judas goats’. The Judas goat allows scientists to make use of goats’ perceptive abilities andtheir ability to sense and respond to each other. Scientists drew on data from studies of bothdomestic and feral goats that showed goats seek each others’ company to turn goats intobetrayers (Keegan et al, 1994, p. 58).As GECI developed their plans for eradication, they saw characteristics of goats beyond

their efficiency at converting forage into meat. Goats were no longer meat on hooves, but wildanimals in the field over which humans lacked control. As GECI focused on eliminating everygoat, the goats appeared less predictable and more individualized. Radio tags were a way toconvert these wild animals into instruments, and the field into a laboratory; for this reason,scientists and conservationists have debated use of radio tags because of their capacity to alterhuman interactions with wilderness (Benson, 2010). On Guadalupe, however, scientistslauded this transformation.The Judas goat technique used by GECI was first developed in the 1980s by conserva-

tionists on Hawaii, where small remnant bands of feral goats were stymieing efforts toeradicate the population. Ecologists observed that the feral goats that evaded eradicationefforts maintained social groups and fixed home ranges and that solitary goats have a strongdrive to locate other goats, a social behavior resistant to change (Shackleton and Shank,1984; Taylor and Katahira, 1988). Taylor and Katahira adapted this gregarious behavior asa tool to eliminate the remaining population, releasing radio-collared goats into thebackcountry where hunters would track them as they sought out other goats. They were

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the first to call the radio-collared goats ‘Judas goats’, betrayers of their fellows. Not allanimals are suitable for these kinds of tracking and hunting projects. Programs to developJudas pigs have failed; lacking the gregarious nature of goats, pigs fail to seek each other out(McCann and Garcelon, 2008).Although all goats are social, female goats are generally used as Judas goats because they are

more efficient at locating herds, and they quickly “betray the locations of male admirers”(Nelson, 2007, p. 299). Their efficiency is hindered, however, because female Judas goatsoften become pregnant or give birth in the field, “causing downtime of Judas goat operation”(Campbell and Donlan, 2005). To avoid downtime of their field operatives, Judas goatprojects began using sterilized female goats, while later projects went further, sterilizing“ ‘Super Judas’ nannies, implanted with hormones to draw billies” (Krajick, 2005, p. 1413).These ‘Super Judas’ goats are also known as Mata Hari goats (Cruz et al, 2009). Like MataHari, an exotic dancer and spy for Germany during World War I, these goats will both seduceand betray their fellows.In Judas goat projects, humans and goats work together as experienced trackers follow the

Judas goats to the remaining herds, learning to track quietly while remaining downwind andout of sight. In these projects, all goats except for the Judas goat are killed, while the Judasgoat is “spared so that it will search out other goats” and the process of tracking and huntingis repeated until Judas goats encounter only other Judas goats and the eradication of goats isachieved (Keegan et al, 1994). Occasionally, even after the feral goats have been eradicated, afew radio-collared Judas goats are kept around as biological detection devices, monitoringtools used to confirm the successful eradication or to detect any remaining individuals. If anynew feral goats appear, the Judas goats will seek them out, betraying their presence. Tosuccessfully eradicate a population, scientists not only need to know about goat behavior ingeneral; they also needed to learn about individual goats and their typical patterns ofmovement, and individual Judas goats were identified and praised as especially effective atlocating other goats (Taylor and Katahira, 1988; Keegan et al, 1994). On Guadalupe, GECIcaptured and sterilized 40 goats before equipping them with radio collars and sending themoff into the island backcountry to betray their fellows. Working with hunters from NewZealand in a helicopter loaned by the Mexican Navy, GECI hunted the remaining goats thatwere hiding in Guadalupe’s inaccessible cliffs, canyons and caves. “In this case it was criticalto work together with the National Protected Areas Commission, and, maybe even moreimportant, with the Mexican Navy”, one scientist pointed out to me. “The island is very faraway from the continent, so you need to navigate for one day or so to get there. It’s not easy toget there with a helicopter, it’s an oceanic flight. And you needed a helicopter to get rid of thegoats” (Interview with the author, 2011). The cliffs on the island are up to a kilometer high,and the terrain is very rough, making ground hunting impossible.While scientists sought to learn about goats, they also worked to prevent goats from

becoming educated. The use of the original Judas goats in slaughterhouses exploited theability of goats to learn from each other how to execute a task. This aptitude was ahindrance to eradication efforts, since an educated goat was much more difficult to kill.Goats quickly learned to be wary of hunters, becoming highly sensitive to their sounds andtracks. As a result, eradication projects move and kill quickly (Taylor and Katahira, 1988;Keegan et al, 1994; Campbell and Donlan, 2005). In a report on a feral goat eradicationcampaign on Santiago Island in the Galapagos, the authors noted that it is essential to


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minimize chances that a goat may escape during the hunting process, “to prevent a naïvepopulation from learning to avoid hunting methods” (Cruz et al, 2009). Animals at lowdensities are difficult to detect, even with the use of Judas goats as biological detectionsystem, and goats that have learned to be wary of humans increase costs and theprobability of eradication failure (Parkes, 1990; Russell et al, 2005; Morrison et al, 2007;Cruz et al, 2009).In the process of executing a Judas goat project, scientists learn from and about goats,

incorporating them into the project producing them as instruments, while simultaneouslyengaging with goats as wild animals whose behavior cannot be controlled, animals whosecapacity to learn and to thwart scientific goals is something to be reckoned with. In thisway, eradications are an unusual contact zone between humans and goats, producing cross-species interactions and intraspecies betrayals. While eradication projects are oftendescribed as wars between people and animals, goats here are seen as collaborators andwilling betrayers of their fellow goats. The choice of ‘Judas goat’ as a name is judgmental,labeling goats doing goat things as betrayers, making a conscious choice to sell out theirfellow goats to save their own skins, a reversal of Monte Cristo’s heroic rescues. It framesthese encounters in a particular way, one that attributes to goats an evil kind of agency,fitting with goats’ traditional symbolic association with the devil and treachery. OnGuadalupe, the Judas goat program ended successfully for the conservationists in 2007,after they eradicated approximately 10 000 feral goats. With the eradication of the goats,seedlings of native and endemic species that had been absent for more than 100 years beganto grow again, and plant species that had been thought long extinct began to reappear(Grupo de Ecología y Conservación de Islas, 2011).

Sacrificial Mice

Although the goats were gone, GECI’s work on the island was not finished; rather, theattention of the group had shifted to the next animal. After a week on the island, our days hadtaken on a rhythm. We woke at 5:00 to drive across the island to the field site where we spentour days monitoring the mouse population. As we drove, Adriana interpreted the sceneryaround us, pointing out which species were invasive and which were native, while the risingsun illuminated the landscape. Adriana knew the island well after years of working as theproject manager, and she saw the landscape in terms of its history and its future. The grassesthat covered the hills next to the road were all invasive, mostly European, although some hadcome from Australia.Adriana explained the dramatic transformation she had seen over the years:

I’ve seen the island before and after the goats. I’m very moved to see that the island hasthis capacity of regenerating all these life forms. It was lacking a lot, and there is still alot to do, because yes, there still is damage, and it needs help to recuperate, but for me,it’s very obvious what happens... when you do nothing more than remove the viper, inthis case the predator. The plants, sometimes it’s so easy to do it. It’s just a question ofremoving the threat .… I didn’t think that the island, no one thought that the islandwould respond so quickly. (Interview with the author, 2011)

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While lush fields of invasive grasses now cover the island, when the goats were there theyconsumed everything, leaving almost no vegetation. Deep gullies still cut through the fields,the result of erosion that occurred when rain fell on the deforested landscape.After we jostled along the dirt road for an hour, we arrived at the meadow where the day

before we had placed 64 Sherman traps, thin metal boxes designed to catch live mice. Eachtrap was filled with handfuls of a soft material called estopa and a generous pinch ofdry oats: bedding and food for a mouse for the night. We worked in teams of three tomeasure and mark the mice we had caught, snapping on latex gloves and carrying stacksof traps to the center of the quadrant. We worked surrounded by metal boxes, listening tothe scrabble of nails and teeth against metal as the mice gnawed at the metal doors of thetraps, fighting to escape. They occasionally chewed a hole through the trap and escaped,fleeing into the field. The boxes emitted a pungent odor, which I realized after several dayswas the smell of mouse urine and which became more noxious each day we reused thebedding.Work in the field required difficult judgments about the life and death of animals. At an

earlier field site, Gabriel and I watched as baby turtles emerged from their nests, struggling tobreak free from their shells and dig themselves out of the sand. As they appeared, the orangeand purple land crabs waiting nearby grabbed them and ate the soft parts of their bodies. Theturtles that made it past the crabs were eaten by frigate birds as they reached the sea. I askedGabriel why they let the crabs eat the turtles, and he says, “If the crabs were an invasivespecies, we’d kill them. But they are from here. We’ll kill the mice on the island, but not thecrabs”. But we did not simply kill the mice on Guadalupe, even though they were unwantedpests and GECI’s ultimate purpose was to eliminate invasive species. Gabriel explained to methat we were in the midst of an experiment that required that the mice live. By tracking howmany mice were recaptured each day, we developed an estimate of the population size,a process would be repeated over the course of the year to establish when the population ofmice was at its lowest and thus easiest to eradicate. The data from this experiment showedhow mice moved around the quadrant and the range that each mouse covered, importantinformation so that when the time for eradication came, GECI could drop poison within easyreach of each mouse. The data that we collect from these carefully tended mice would enableGECI to eradicate subsequent generations.Gabriel began processing the first trap, shaking the contents into a ziplock bag. A clump of

bedding fell out, followed by a mouse. He looked thoughtfully at the trap, feeling the weight,and shook it again. A second and then a third mouse fell into the bag. He sealed the bag andgrabbed one mouse through the bag, pressing its whiskers and nose into the corner. Holding itby the loose skin at the back of the neck, he extracted it from the bag. Gabriel manipulated themice expertly, rarely suffering bites. When I admired Gabriel’s technique with the mice, hetold me he used to be disgusted by them. He described himself as an oceanographermasquerading as a biologist, and asserted that he was most comfortable and interested in seamammals – mice were outside of his area of expertise and training. Flipping the mouse upsidedown, he observed that it was female, not currently pregnant, and weighed it, while Flor, abiology student studying in Ensenada and a volunteer with GECI, recorded the data. AsGabriel held the mouse with a firm but not tight grip on its scruff, I pulled out a pair of pincersand a rectangular metal tag a few millimeters long. Each tag was engraved with a three-digitnumber, which I read to Flor before placing the tag on the mouse’s ear and clamping the


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pincers shut, locking the tag in place. I then colored the mouse’s belly and tail with a greenpermanent marker. Gabriel joked that I would think that GECI’s primary goal was to makeanimals more beautiful by giving them earrings and decorating them with colored markers.Once the mouse was fully documented and marked, Gabriel returned it to the trap in which itwas caught. Once we processed all 64 traps, we released each mouse in the spot where it hadbeen captured.When Gabriel grabbed the next mouse from the bag, we saw the glint of a metal tag in its

ear. Flor noted the number and returned the mouse to the trap. This was our third day in thisquadrant and some of the mice we encountered were being captured for a second or thirdtime. Flor grabbed the next trap, shaking out a fat little mouse. She remarked on how plumphe was, and how he nonchalantly continued to eat an oat even as she grabbed the scruff of hisneck. “You’re my favorite, fatty!” she exclaimed, “I’ll remember your number always”. Sheheld him up next to her face, and I took their picture together. At this stage, prior toeradicating the mice, we are engaged in caring for them in order to produce data. Alongsidethat careful scientific work, we develop more individualized relationships with the mice(Figure 3).Even as we worked toward the eradication of these invaders, we developed an attachment

and affection for them. While handling hundreds of mice, we still distinguished among themand found signature characteristics, attributing human qualities to our mousey friends. Whenthey squeaked, we identified it as their manner of singing or crying. Adriana and Matilde,a contract employee on her second trip with GECI, kept up a steady stream of chatter.“Behave yourself! Don’t you bite! My, aren’t you fat. And this one is quite a crybaby”.

Figure 3: Flor and fatty.Source: Author photograph.

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If a mouse squeaked a lot while being handled, they joked that it was surely an adultmale. Matilde picked up a particularly big-eared mouse to put an earring in and exclaimed,“My what beautiful ears you have! And they’re going to be more beautiful now”. Shecomplimented the next, remarking “what a nice white belly you have”. Every so oftenAdriana held a mouse up to Matilde’s face and told her to give it kisses.After we had caught and released mice for a few days, my skill at handling mice and piercing

ears had grown, although I still lagged behind Gabriel in skill level. When I manipulated andmeasured the mice I was frequently bitten, a consequence of holding the scruff too loosely,leaving the mouse enough flexibility to twist around and bite my hand. After a particularlystinging bite – mouse teeth, while not particularly sharp, can still deliver a painful pinch –

I grabbed a mouse too tightly. Its eyes bulged, and before I had time to loosen my grip, themouse died. I inadvertently strangled it. I was shaken that I killed an animal and by howquickly and easily it happened. When a mouse died accidentally in the course of our work,Gabriel usually gave its chest a few thumps or a massage to try to revive it and then we buriedit in a grave near where we were working. One particularly cold morning, Matilde and I wereworking together when I opened a trap to find bedding that was cold and wet with dew, and amouse so still I took it for dead. I showed it to Matilde who said, “No, no, it’s not dead yet”.After we processed it, checking its sex and weight, she took the mouse and placed it in herwool hat, which she dubbed “the incubator”. She tucked the hat inside her jacket to warm themouse. Emptying the rest of the traps, we found three more immobile, frigid mice. Matildetook each one and put it in her hat. By the end of the morning, all four had warmed up, andshe set them free.Eradication efforts tend to focus on larger species first, since they are easier to eradicate and it is

easier to prevent their reintroduction. One pregnant mouse hitching a ride on a ship could undoyears of eradication work, but it is less likely that larger animals like cats or goats would beaccidentally reintroduced. Larger, topographically complex islands like Guadalupe also makeeradication work more difficult – there are more spaces for the animals to hide, and thereforemore chances for them to escape the eradication. GECI’s work on the mouse population wascomplicated by another invasive species long resident on the island. Many years before, cats hadbeen brought to the island as pets and to control the mouse population. Released on the island,they had become feral and a worse pest than the mice, eating baby seabirds and eggs. When themouse population is low, cat predation on birds increases. While GECI thought that animportant next step in restoring the island was the removal of the cats, it was also possible thatremoving cats could domore damage to the ecosystem.Without predators, the mouse populationcould explode, and mice are also destructive, eating eggs and the seeds of native plants.Our monitoring now was to establish what kind of predator–prey relationship exists

between mice and cats. Does cat predation control the size of the mouse population? Wouldreducing the number of cats cause a growth in the number of mice? Or does the size of themouse population depend on the availability of food for the mice? Half of our quadrants werelocated in fenced areas cats could not enter, but predatory birds and other native mousepredators could. The other quadrants were open, accessible to cats. GECI had beenmonitoring the cat population for 5 years, and mice for almost as long, and had found thatthe size of the cat population tracked the size of the mouse population. If it rained, there wouldbe a corresponding increase in grass and seeds and shortly after that there would be moremice, and eventually, more cats.


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Unlike the goats, the mice had no defenders. No one outside of GECI suggested that theyhave any value or that they contributed anything positive to the island. As Rader notes, wedo not weigh the fate of all animals equally. The ethical yardstick by which animalexperimentation and use is measured is variable. While dogs and cats are seen as petsand companions, mice have “been hangers-onto human culture for thousands of years,so their cultural identity as undesirable pests derived first and foremost from thatrelationship” (Rader, 2004, p. 36). As a result, she writes, few people have a strongemotional attachment to mice or a great deal of concern about their fate. We hadconflicting feelings about mice, and it felt strange to be working with such care and effortto handle them and keep them healthy at the same time that their presence on the islandwas judged a destructive one.When we finished processing mice, we sat in a line on the side of the road, bundled up in

jackets against the cold while we ate our lunch. After lunch, we headed back to activate thetraps for another night of mouse catching. As we walked through the fields, we heard the snapof the traps behind us as mice entered them almost immediately after they were deposited. Weplaced the traps in the evening, finishing as the sun began to set, and we started work early inthe morning so that the mice were not left baking in the metal boxes in the heat of the day. Ourschedule and work was arranged around carefully tending to this invasive creature, thinkingof their health and handling them with the utmost care. I found that we were caring for thepest. While talk of invasive species is about eradication, elimination, prevention, thinkingabout things that belong or do not belong, the day-to-day work is of caring for the animalsthat are here. Producing knowledge about this population, whatever its history or fate on theisland, involves caring for the mice that are there now.The mice slipped in and out of pest status, crossing borders back and forth between being

our friends and our enemies, between bios and zoe. One minute they were matter out of place,destructive eaters of bird eggs, invaders of an island paradise and disgusting trespassers in ourliving space. The next they were model animals for our research, that we tended to carefully,identified and were affectionate with. Once they were made experimental subjects, theybecame useful and valuable. We had an emotional relationship to our Guadalupe mice thatexceeded the ordinary connections between human and mice.Hayward writes of the way animal bodies “carry forms of domination, communion, and

activation into the folds of being. As we look for multispecies manifestations wemust not ignorethe repercussions that these unions have for all actors”. Hayward (2010) notes that in trying tomake sense of the corals she is working with she aids in their death; “this species-sensing is noteasily refused by the animals” (p. 592). Likewise, our care of the mice was non-optional for themice. We interacted with them and they left their marks on us, in the form of bites, torn gloves,chewed-through traps and soiled bedding. But ultimately, we chose the terms of our engagementwith them. As Rader (2004) has observed, making mice into experimental models requirescaring for them, learning how to optimize their life in the laboratory. Our traps disciplined themice to be model animals for our experiment, which produced the knowledge necessary for theireradication. At the same time, these mice were not quite laboratory animals. While the earringsandmarkings turned them intomeasuring devices and instruments for us, they remained distinctfrom lab mice, which are raised under carefully controlled conditions and are bred to bestandardized, easily exchangeable for one another and to have characteristics suited forparticular kinds of experiments. Furthermore, lab mice are not generally valued for their ability

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to produce knowledge about mice themselves, rather they are interesting for the way they can bemade to speak to other biological systems (ibid.). Here on Guadalupe, now configured as a fieldsite, we did not seek to alter the mice’s behavior. Instead, our goal was to enlist the mice ascollaborators so that we could describe and map their wild patterns of behavior. We cared forthem in order to enable our future betrayal.


Discourse about invasive species is revealing. The emotionally heightened rhetoric that peopleuse when they talk about alien species, representing them as sources of existential threat and risk,demonstrates the ways in which they think about nativeness and purity, about insiders andoutsiders. However, this discourse, while effective in mobilizing action, does not capture thecomplex ways in which humans and animals engage in the field. Looking at conservationpractices in Mexico demonstrates the ways in which invasive species become visible as a threat.Within the context of a single island, the meaning of animal life and cross-species relationshipstransformed as human priorities changed, remaking the island from slaughterhouse to field siteto laboratory. Thinking about the island within the national context ofMexican biodiversity andecosystem health, rather than its potential for producing meat for the local population, ledscientists to a reinterpretation of the value of animal lives. This interpretation went counter to thevarious ways that other people, who did not see biodiversity as an essential or obvious resource,used and relied on these ostensibly threatening animals. For scientists at GECI, the project wasabout preserving the island for Mexico – not just as a piece of property that significantlyextended the boundaries of the nation, but also as a place with a particular ecosystem.As people began to think about the importance of the island in new contexts and at new

scales, slaughter for conservation replaced slaughter for food. Scientists transformed the islandfrom feedlot to laboratory, along the way incorporating animals into their scientific practice.As much as the island was made to resemble a laboratory, however, the multispeciesrelationships between humans and animals differed significantly from those between scientistsand model organisms in ordinary laboratories. Animals were instruments and recipients ofindividualized care and attention, and goats and mice on Guadalupe were both loved andbetrayed. Scientists were engaged in simultaneously seeing and caring for the island andexterminating, a far more complex relationship than simply annihilating a threat. Caring forand subsequently betraying these animals to preserve the health of a larger area represents analternative multispecies relationship, one that is perhaps darker than the stories of companionspecies, interspecies communications, connectivities or practices of living together that havebeen characterized in other multispecies ethnographies.


I would like to thank Stefan Helmreich, Harriet Ritvo, Jean Jackson, David Jones, NathanHogan and members of the History, Anthropology, and STS seminar at MIT and the PoliticalEcologyWorking Group at Harvard for reading and commenting on drafts of this article. Thiswork has been supported by the Wenner Gren Foundation and the National Science


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Foundation. I am especially grateful to all the members of the Grupo de Ecología yConservación de Islas, who showed me their work, answered my questions and introducedme to the islands of Mexico.

About the Author

Emily Wanderer is a doctoral candidate in the History, Anthropology and STS Program atMIT. Her research is based in Mexico, where she studies the development of biosecurityprojects to protect human, animal and plant life.

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