By Bernard Wainaina;CEO,Profarms Consultants®
The era of treating ethnoveterinary medicine and any other ethnoknowledge system with suspicion and labeling it as myth, superstition and witchcraft, is
The role of ethnoveterinary medicine in livestock development is beyond dispute (Martin et al 2001).
A great number of professionals from
varied fields have over the past 26 years recognised,valued, documented and ethnocentrically studied the potential effectiveness of the traditional animal health care practices embodied in native and local communities.
The studies focused on a holistic
evaluation of the traditional and non-traditional knowledge, which hold some beneficial aspects relevant to the improvement and development of
world poorest rural communities.
A glance at the existing literature reveals that the traditional
knowledge embodied in ethnomedicine, constitute yet an untapped resource of potentially useful information for possible deployment in sustainable
animal health management systems in rural and peri-urban communities all over the world.
As wide spread as it is, the practice of ethnoveterinary medicine has lagged behind that of its counter part (modern veterinary medicine) many
times partly because the practice was secretly done and its information hidden in the gray literature.
However, it is crucial to note that a
sizeable body of published literature now exists,including an annotated bibliography abstracting over.
In many native and local stock raising communities if not all, a considerable proportion of useful ethnoknowledge and some of
the traditional animal health care practices remain unknown to date, albeit their increased demand to
be integrated into primary animal health care delivery systems for wider use by rural and peri-urban communities.
Ethnoveterinary knowledge (EVK) continues to be recognized at a global level as a resource that
reflects people’s total commitment and experience in life, from origin through evolutionary stages to
These experiences, stem from
people’s ingenuity, credulity and above all, perhaps,their insatiable curiosity that over many centuries,
they accumulated the current rich and resourceful traditional knowledge that has been passed on from
generation to generation by word of mouth,traditional songs, poems, drawings, paintings,stories, legends, dreams, visions and initiation
This knowledge is sketchily recorded in books and is stored in the same fashion as it is transmitted by means of practice or in the form of artifacts handed from father to son or from mother to daughter.
The storage of the knowledge is
solely depended on the collective memory of just a few entrusted persons within communities for it is
just not common ‘knowledge’ for every body.
The knowledge is believed to be collectively and communally owned by ancestors and kept under the
custody of living old men and women, depending on the community, ethnicity, sex, age, caste etc.
There is a danger however this method of vesting knowledge in human custodians can be undermined by mortality, thereby losing important information to
the future generations.
The identification and acquisition of this knowledge was and is by no means an easy task in the lives of
It was a gradual process of trial and error mechanisms, which must have caused many a fatality before coming to its current status.
People were so adventurous in initial stages of life that through evolution, they laid down what can be considered as a great foundation of modern life!
They sorted out plants they could eat and those they could not, and gradually discovered certain
qualities beyond mere edibility such as pain-killing,soothing, relief of fevers, clothing, beddings, building
materials, source of fire wood, woodcarving, writing materials, worshiping shrines, fences and many
other traditional health practices useful to them.
The discovery of all these uses of plants must have occurred in a number of ways, not only by the principle of trial and error
Some of these ways include: – watching animals treat themselves by eating and rubbing themselves with special plants when ill
(zoopharmacognosy) and subsequent adoption of the same remedies, communicating and interacting
with the visiting traditional medical specialists from other communities and borrowing their traditional
remedial ideas, inheriting the healing powers and magic from parents, buying the healing and magic
powers from experienced traditional medical specialists and deliberate experimentation to help select those remedies that work.
A significant amount of knowledge regarding, which plant or traditional remedy works or not, has also
been acquired through observation, ‘visions’ and during ritual communal gatherings (This is author’s
personal experience with ethnopractitioners from Coast, Eastern, Central and Western provinces of Kenya).
Ethnoknowledge focusing on ethnoveterinary animal
health care has existed alongside human evolutionary history, taking many different forms.
It comprises all ethnopractices approaches and traditional knowledge applied by humans with a view to alleviating health constraints afflicting their livestock and hence, improves their production and
This, may take the form of selective
breeds and breeding practices, crowning and recognition of renowned ethnopractitioners, animal
feeds and feeding behaviour, ritualism, herbalism,spiritualism, ethnoepidemiological knowledge on
livestock vectors, pathogens, hosts and diseases and traditional ‘institutions’ and ecosystems in which this knowledge exist.
Like any other knowledge systems, EVK is very dynamic in its evolution,
management and practice.
Because of this dynamism, many ethnopractitioners find themselves
in a situation where they complement EVK with modern veterinary medicine, especially in cases where EVK is limited and or cannot work.
Enhancement of this approach
is most likely to spur research and development of EVK and undoubtedly enable it make immense strides in the development of livestock industry,more particularly in developing countries where
modern veterinary services and resources are really limited in supply and availability.
This however,requires good knowledge and understanding of EVK
limitations and successes, needs and circumstances of ethnopractitioners, mutual understanding and co operation between conventional veterinarians and ethnopractitioners and respect to Intellectual
property rights (IPR).
This synopsis article discusses a
variety of issues related to a historical evolution and
understanding of EVK in many different ways by different stakeholders as underutilized resource yet to revolutionarize the development of livestock industry in the 21st century.
The synopsis further gives a comprehensive critique of definitions of EVK and associated terminologies with a special focus on its threats, resurgence towards the end of 20th century and finally, outlines the way forward for EVK in today’s world.
A historical perspective of traditional
veterinary medicine Wynn (2001) describes the today’s traditional
medicine, as undoubtedly the oldest form of medicine and probably evolved simultaneously with
the evolution of human beings.
People’s association and care for animals’ health is a very ancient
phenomenon and perhaps, stems from the Biblical times of Adam in the Garden of Eden.
This becomes self evident in the Bible when Adam was shown
herbal remedies and made the master of all animals (Genesis1: 26-29).
Adam of course was not a professionally trained veterinary doctor who could treat animals when they became sick.
However, this mythical presentation per se, sends some signals of
herbal application in Adam’s life time in one way or another but this should however, be considered as
an objectivism of the authors.
Historical records reveal people’s association with and treatment of animals to be over 14,000 years
ago, first with a dog, followed by sheep and goats by 9,000BC in the fertile Nile Valley, and then with
cattle in Egypt from 4000BC and in Anatolia around 6000BC (Mellaart 1967).
This evolution was followed by pig and horse cultures in view of their importance (Murray 1968).
For instance, at around 3000BC
horses, elephants, and other animals were highly regarded and were in good association with man in
what is present-day, Sri Lanka and could be treated with Ayurvedic medicine (Anjaria 1987).
These associations were based on economic, cultural, social and religious beliefs attached to each type of animal and it was during this time that veterinary medicine
evolved specifically to take care of the health of animals, which were being domesticated (Thrusfield
For instance, veterinary therapeutic
techniques of Egyptian healers (priest-healers) are recorded in the veterinary Papyrus of Kahun (c. 1900
They combined both religious and medical roles.
Literary records of similar age, describing veterinary medical activities, are extant from other parts of the world, such as Indian Sanskrit texts from the Vedic
period (1800-1200BC) (Thrusfield 1986).
Succeeding civilizations had varying concepts regarding the causes and remedies of livestock diseases.
Table 1 describes these concepts in six categories.
Table 1: Some traditional concepts of causes of livestock diseases and their corresponding ethnoremedies
Ancient concept (s) of livestock
ill-health Believed specific
cause(s) of ill-health in
livestock populations and systems
Demonic theory Witches
Spirits of the
seeds to avoid
(an epidemic of
Libations cast to
Marriages of live
Worshipful care of
tiny animal idols.
icons, totems etc.
in animal quarters
or on their bodies.
Use of special
people such as
onion or wood
from old rice
mortars is used to
to live close to
Sprinkling of holy
water by Catholic
farmers in Ireland.
in their stables in
Divine Wrath Displeased
Disease as a
gods or God
A hex by a
in the community.
services of a
Medicine Occult forces
that persisted for
include the use of
toads to treat
warts and also the
use of sheep
livers in Babylon.
of 4 humours
of the body
cold) and with
Alterations in diet
Move away from
the site of bad air.
Balance the 4
water, wind and
by contact or
being taken in
by nose or
Separate the sick
animals from the
health ones and
mixing the sick
Kill the sick
animals to stop
disease to others.
Place some health
animals from the
sick stock in other
persons’ herds in
order to avoid
losing all their
stock in case of an
Theory Tse tse flies –
of ticks from the
Somalis in Africa.
Pierce the ticks
with the needle or
blade so that they
die and fall off-by
in Sierra Leone.
Use of Maycha‘s
Griseb and S.
Peruvian Andes to
drive off the
brown ear ticks.
and shade trees
infested with flies.
Washing of cattle
eg, from tobacco
tabacum L.) and
– by Nigerian
A wash of squash-
leaf juice as a fly
on special salty
‘plants’ so that
ticks fall off.
to kill vectors and
drive away others
by the smoke
infested places so
that animals like
the Camels can
not roll there to
animals with a
mixture of salt
and six ground
fruits to make the
ticks fall off-by
Twareg in Niger.
Mange is treated
by the extracts of
– by the Andeans.
An application of
leaves and black
soap helps control
mange – by the
and garlic extract
used by Brazilians
to fight swine
Lemon juice used
by Andeans to
Barbasco or root
control Lice and
Somalis use latex
camel urine or an
In China, mange
is controlled by
and caustics into
Sources: Thrusfield 1986; Mathias-Mundy and
McCorkle 1989; Martin et al 2001
Based on the authors’ experience and published information exemplified by the information in Table 1, it is very difficult to separate religion from traditional medicine but is a unique combination and
practical experience and approach to solving health problems in human life history.
The subject of offering prayers as a healing power has been
extensively referenced in the literature cited, with particular precision and attention to detail by
Mathias-Mundy and McCorkle (1989) on the principles of magico-religion beliefs and practices.
In summary, the authors quote them:
“Magico-religion practices can not truly be separated from other aspects of ethnoveterinary medicine-
even though, for heuristic purposes, this is sometimes necessary.”
The separation seems especially artificial in the domain of ethnopharmacology where many remedies used for magical or symbolic reasons have been
scientifically proven effective.
By both epically and ethically, the line between supernatural and natural is thin (McCorkle 1986).
In any event, studying one
without the other is scientifically indefensible.
Or as Lawrence (1988) aptly observed, merely listing diseases and treatments without placing them in
their social and cultural context is as dry as prairie dust- and essentially meaningless.
This simply shows a long history of ethnomedicine and how deeply it is rooted in people’s cultural set up.
It is surprising to note that some of these magico-religion cultural practices parallel the western veterinary medicine in principle and practice.
For instance, the
Andeans way of keeping livestock herds away from cold, breezy places so as to keep them out of the
haunts of the evil winds, is analytically noted to be a useful management strategy to forestall pneumonias or other respiratory ills (McCorkle 1986).
In pre-historical, historical or present day societies, the following were and are still some of the reasons for
recourse to supernatural approaches to animal health problems:
»African stockowners resort to supernatural approaches so as to cope with livestock health problems they do not understand (Porter et al
1988; Marx 1984; Schwabe 1978; McCorkle 1982).
»It is considered as one of their usual
ethnotherapies in societies eg, Nigerian Fulani pastoralists (Ibrahim 1986).
»In case of a new disease emerging eg, Foot-and-Mouth Disease in Peru when it appeared for the
first time (Negron 1966),It is considered when no effective alternative therapy is available (Ohta 1984; McCorkle 1982).
»It is considered when magic is believed to be the causative mechanism for the ailment eg, the way it is believed that the sheep are magically attracted to a poisonous plant – Astragalus
»In principle and practice, the Ayurverdic medicine
has been used by man for along period of time and today, it offers great potentials for complementing
the contemporary medicine.
In Ayurverdic records,the earliest art of ethnomedicine-based practices
advocating for the care of man’s health and probably that of his animals, appear to be nearly over 5000 years old in a Chinese pharmacopoeia (Huxley 1977).
Sumerians’ records, in which about 1000 medicinal plants were documented, over 4000 years ago, later followed this.
In addition to these records, Schillborn van Veen (1997) in his introduction, mentions records of veterinarians delivering services as early as 1800 BC, during the reign of King Hammurabi of Babylon, and the creation of animal hospitals during
the reign of King Ashoka between 269 and 232 BC in the Rock Edict 11.
This kind of veterinary art, we
suggest, must have facilitated the development of major veterinary centres, which appear in historical
records in China, Egypt and later in Arabia (Schillborn van Veen 1997).
Since these ancient times, the succeeding civilizations all over the world had their herbal experts or doctors, being the local equivalents of university-trained doctors, who could help their fellows in adversities.
Nevertheless, these simple
traditional cures have continuously and slowly evolved over the centuries from nearly every country all over the world (Le Strange 1977).
Some of these countries where, manufacturing of herbal remedies
or phytopharmaceuticals have evolved a long with other traditional health practices and even the
products are sold either in-country or exported,include:- China, India, Germany, Singapore, Chile,
USA, Britain, France, Spain, Japan, Italy, Hong Kong,Republic of Korea, Pakistan, Thailand, Mexico,
Madagascar, Egypt, Cameroon, Morocco, Kenya,Zimbabwe, Ghana, Nigeria, Argentina and others
This evolution was more vigorous in advancing in humans than in veterinary pharmaceutical industry (Kofi-Tsekpo and Kioy
However, it is important to note that since pre- historic times, the traditional folklore did not only have medicine for human treatment, but also animal health medicine as shown in the above history (Kofi-Tsekpo and Kioy 1998; Schillborn van
This has been particularly exemplified by the animal health care practices of the pastoralist
communities worldwide, such as, the Maasai, the Turkana, the Pokot, the Boran, the Rendille, the Somali, the Sebei, the Karamajong of Uganda, the Fulani in West Africa, Peruviams, the Twareg, the Quechua, the Meau in Thailand, the WoDaaBe, the
Andeans, the Baggara Arabs of Sudan, the Nuer, the Datoga of East Africa and the Hausas in the north
belt of West Africa (Ayensu 1978; Mathias-Mundy and McCorkle 1989).
These livestock raisers, have used medicines locally prepared from plants and other traditional practices in treating and preventing diseases found to hamper livestock production in their respective environments.
Therefore, although the veterinary art is such ancient (Bierer 1955), the
recognition and subsequent appreciation of people’ s traditional healthcare for animals, is a very recent one in both scientific and academic cycles, only its
importance being made the focus of attention the beginning of mid-1970s and gaining its momentum from early 1980s (McCorkle 1986).
This period of time, should be relatively and appropriately be
regarded as a revolutionary period of today’s ethnoveterinary medicine and from the foregoing, it is self evident that probably the revolution must have been sparked off by a resolution adopted by the 30th World Health Assembly in 1977, urging
interested governments to integrate their traditional systems of medicine into their national health delivery systems (Akerele 1983).
In early 1980s advocates of the use of traditional health care systems, must have responded to this resolution and fully came on the scene advocating for the same
(Sollod and Night 1983; FAO 1980; 1984a; 1984b;
1984c and 1986; McCorkle 1982 and 1986).
And after the mid-1980s, the term ‘ethnoveterinary’ was born and introduced into academic and scientific cycles through the efforts of Dr. Constance M. McCorkle (McCorkle 1986).
Probably, the first significant step in response to these revolutionary
reactions and realization of the importance of this subject, was the birth and appreciation of this
terminology, followed by the work of Mathias-Mundy and McCorkle (1989), in compiling an annotated bibliography comprising 261 references, in which 237 are annotated, with greater emphasis being put on the ethnoveterinary medicine of African continent
and Latin America and slightly Asia.
In their bibliography, the authors endeavours to close the gap between the traditional practitioners and the
advocates of the orthodox contemporary medicine
(allopathic medicine) by strategically evaluating a point where the two can strike a balance of understanding, working together and complementing their efforts for the betterment of
the less disadvantaged livestock raiser rural and peri-urban communities of the world in both the
developing and developed countries.
The second move in this direction, centres on Zeutzius (1990), who published a similar amount of work comprising 300 references, mainly from the data banks, although most of the references also appeared in the first bibliography of Mathias-Mundy and McCorkle
However, the two complemented one
another and from the analytical point of view, their agenda appears to be the same in highlighting the
need to focus research on ethnoveterinary medicine and ultimately blending with conventional veterinary practices in order to achieve sustainable animal health care in rural and peri-urban communities of the world.
Together with other new advocates of
ethnoveterinary medicine who later came on the scene, such as Bizimana (1994), IIRR (1994), Köhler-
Rollefson (1994), Mayor (1994), Mwilawa et al
(1996), Wynn (1999), Farah et al (1996), ITDG and
IIRR (1996), Munyua et al (1998), Mathias (2000),
Patricia (2001) etc., strongly agitated for the complete integration of indigenous technical
knowledge with conventional scientific knowledge so
as to be in a position of solving common problems facing rural and peri-urban communities of the world
involved in livestock raising.
The ultimate in this development has been the publication of a voluminous annotated bibliography of community
animal health care consisting of 1240 publications that deal with socio-cultural, politico-economic,
environmental and biomedical aspects of ethnoveterinary medicine all over the world (Martin
et al 2001).
Nevertheless, before 1977, there were more descriptive reports, which had appeared in record about ethnoveterinary medicine, some dating back to 1910 by anthropolgists, sociologists and others by veterinarians (Mares 1951; 1954a,b; Mathias-Mundy
and McCorkle 1989).
But one major shortcoming aspect of these reports was that they never defined clearly the terminology ‘ethnoveterinary’ or whatever
they were describing in the field as their observations and experiences of traditional animal health knowledge.
Otherwise, before this great
revolution period- 1977-2001, ethnoveterinary medicine was purely the art subject of anthropology,
history and sociology and hardly recognized and appreciated by western-world researchers, scholars,
planners, developers and particularly veterinarians,as a socio-cultural medical discipline of veterinary
importance (Nigeria 1929; Larrat 1939; Lodrick
1981; McCorkle 1986; Mathias-Mundy and McCorkle 1989; McCorkle et al 1997).
And yet, veterinary medicine as practiced today by western-world
veterinarians, has its origin and deep roots in tradition medicine as practiced in pre-history in China, India, some parts of Asia and Africa (Nile valley in particular) and the Middle East (Schwabe 1978; Schillhorn van Veen 1997).
This therefore poses a great challenge to the advocates of
ethnoveterinary medicine to try and trace the lost route of the traditional animal health care practices
in the new millennium of 21st Century.
Why was ethnoveterinary medicine not carried forward upon the arrival of orthodox* medicine?
Since time immemorial, ethnomedicine has existed
with human beings as a kind of cultural art of health and practice that helps people solve all health-
Interactions amongst people with
diverse cultural evolution lines, have resulted in adoption and abandonment of certain traditional
health practices that are crucial to the survival of man.
With the arrival of modern medicine and continued ethnocentric interactions, some of these
vital traditional health practices were completely abandoned without considerations until the turn of
20th century is when it was realized that some vital traditional health information was left behind and
need to be retrieved.
This is clearly illustrated by
some reports from India (Hirachandra 1924; Mushtaq or Mushtag???1926; Naidu 1933; Sharma 1933;
Parera 1941; Krishnaswamy 1945; Krishnamurthi 1946), and as reported by McCorkle et al (1997).
However, the realization was not given the seriousness it deserved until towards the end of 20th
century and the beginning of 21st century is when the western-world researchers, scholars, planners
and developers accepted in confidence of the fact that ethnoveterinary medicine is equally important as orthodox medicine and the two can complement one another to achieve a sustainable livestock health care delivery system.
Indeed, it is true as Martin et al
(2001) concluded in their article that ignoring ethnoveterinary medicine in today’s development would mean losing a very important and special
component in life history of mankind that definitely would have made a difference for better!
Why then was this ‘special and important component’ left behind, only to be remembered later?
The following are some of the possible reasons for not carrying
forward ethnoveterinary medicine upon the arrival of orthodox medicine
[Orthodox: Morally and ethically
accepted, approved and true opinion or way of thinking and or doing things in life)
(Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary 1913).
»As compared to traditional animal health care developed and
practised through trial and error methods and deliberate experimentation and is therefore less
documented, systematic, formalized and not universally recognized and for these reasons, it has
had no place in mainstream veterinary medicine
(Mathias 2004)] although as Mathias and Perezgrovas (1997) explain in their paper, the full utilisation of this knowledge depends on:
remoteness of the project promoting its use, a community’s way of life (are they arable farmers,
pastoralists, commercial farmers or semi- pastoralists),
environmental conditions,availability of alternatives,recognition of the value of the ethnoveterinary
medicine,characteristics of the local versus introduced systems in terms of efficacy, costs, availability and
cultural feasibility,economic value and purpose of the animals kept
and the relationship between humans and animals,available information on proven effective indigenous, drugs and practices, status of thinking, and
type of livestock diseases and problems.
»When orthodox veterinary medicine was introduced, many orthodox veterinarians did not promote indigenous practices in any ways because they did not understand it and therefore, they did not appreciate the role, which ethnoveterinary medicine played in the life history of mankind
(Toyang et al 1995).
»In most countries all over the world, the state laws were and have not been enacted to govern,advocate and promote the utilization of the
traditional knowledge in either independent, a long side the modern ones or in complementary
with the orthodox medicine.
»So, in many countries like Cameroon, most of people’s medical traditional methods and practices were considered illegal and hence, secretly practiced (Toyang et al
»Some people believed that ethnoveterinary medicine never used to cure diseases completely
(The ANTHARA Team 1997),
»Thought to be very primitive and witchery
»The belief that orthodox medicine is superior to indigenous and is capable of solving all the
livestock health problems when in actual sense, it
doesn’t (Toyang et al 1995; Nuwanyakpa et al
»There was very little research done to support the arguments for the practice of ethnoveterinary
medicine and therefore, there being no enough scientific evidence, there was increased lack ofconfidence in the effectiveness of ethnoveterinary
medicine (Fielding 1997),
»Ethnoveterinary medicine was considered outfashioned and accompanied with lack of
information regarding its use (Fielding 1997),
»Modern drugs were found to be easier to use and
even apply (Fielding 1997),
»Some new emerging diseases such as
enterotoxaemia in cattle and blue tongue in sheep,were found not to have the expected traditional
cures and so to many other contagious diseases
(The ANTHARA Team 1997; Rathore et al 1997),
»Quite a number of succeeding generations of the
world came to realize that the traditional plant
medicines are hard to standardize and can be a
bother to prepare (The (ANTHARA Team 1997;
Martin et al 2001),
»Toxic problems and poisoning associated with
particular ethnomedicinal plants or herbal product
types were well documented and understood
(Mugera 1970a,b; Kokwaro 1993; Wichtl 1994;
Röder 1995; Leung and Foster 1996) and this
scared the potential users who then opted to use
»A whole plant, or the required part(s) such as
leaves, flowers, fruits, buds, barks etc., may not be
available throughout the year or at the time of the
year when it is really required, particularly in
summer (The ANTHARA Team 1997).
»So in somecases, it was self evident that people were forced
by circumstances to start using industrialpharmaceuticals,
»Not enough experienced people or healers areavailable,
»To some, it was out of curiosity to evaluate the
effectiveness of the new conventional drugs
following their advertisement in the media and to
others, it was a time to change from their old
traditional methods to modern ones,
»The confusion that exists between superstitiousbeliefs and ethnoveterinary treatment (The
ANTHARA Team 1997),
»The western practitioners wanted to market and
test the performance of their conventional/
contemporary medicines under different
environmental conditions by convincing the
natives/locals, particularly those from the
developing countries to abandon their traditional
medicine and immediately adopt the orthodox
»Many people from the western world who
introduced the orthodox medicine to the natives/
locals in many developing countries were
missionaries who advocated for healing powers
from God through the administration of only
synthetic drugs from their respective countries,
hence a marketing strategy of synthetic medicines
from the developed world.
»The natives/locals were
completely discouraged from using and practicing
their traditional medicine in any ways as it was
considered to be witchcraft and sinful and
»Unfortunately, veterinary traditional herbal
medicine has a long way to go before the doses
and protocols are formalized like it is the case for
human beings (Wynn 2001).
For instance, Wynn
(2001) reported in her article that, herbalists do
commonly relieve arthritic pain using white willow.
She further explained that white willow contains
salicin, which is similar to the salicylic acid found
Now, if one attempted to treat an
arthritic cat with a smaller dose of white willow,
the cat might experience a fatal reaction, since
cats cannot metabolize salicylic acid.
She gave a
second example of garlic, which causes chronic
toxicities in animals by producing anemic
condition in the victim animal, when it has been
described as a powerful antimicrobial agent, for
cardiac treatment and for cholesterol lowering
agent in humans.
»The traditional animal health care developed and
practised through trial and error methods and
deliberate experimentation and is therefore less
documented, systematic, formalized and not
universally recognized and for these reasons, it
has had no place in mainstream veterinary
medicine (Mathias 2004),
»Little or no research is focused on traditional
veterinary medicine to understand the underlying
science and promote validation procedures and
processes (Lans 2001).
»The failure of key stakeholders in traditional
animal health care systems to differentiate
between herbal medicines, ritual medicines and
Definition variability: towards understandingor misunderstanding ethnoveterinary
Since pre-historic times, man was aware of
traditional veterinary medicine, though haphazardly
studied and recorded, until recently.
A milestone in
understanding the traditional veterinary medicine as
applied and used by local people, was the
determination and definition of the term
This term was for the first time in
research forum, applied and used by Dr Constance
McCorkle in 1986 (McCorkle 1986).
She used it to
refer to the ‘systematic investigations of folk beliefs
and practices in veterinary medicine,’ by then.
later, defined it as local or indigenous knowledge and
methods for caring for, healing, and managing
This included social practices and ways in
which livestock are incorporated into farming
Ever since, many researchers have come up
and defined it in ways that suit and meet their
interests, needs and situations.
For instance, three
years later, Mathias-Mundy and McCorkle (1989)
equated traditional veterinary medicine to
‘veterinary anthropology’ and defined it better than
before as ‘folk beliefs, knowledge, skills and methods
and practices pertaining to the health care of
Many researchers worldwide, still up to
date refer to this last definition irrespective of it
having undergone many changes in definition and
Many other researchers have used a
language within the domain of their own profession
to describe ethnoveterinary terminology.
instance, basing on the understanding of Martin
(1996), a world-renowned ethnobotanist, referred to
the prefix, Ethno-per se, as, that is the way other
people look at the world around them.
statement, in its originality, precisely favours
scientific, cultural and philosophical approach to a
holistic consideration of how life is managed in
different communities all over the world.
To be more
specific probably, this prefix, when used before a
name of an academic discipline such as Veterinary,
Biology, Botany etc., it refers to a holistic exploration
of the local people’s perception of socio-cultural,
anthropological and scientific knowledge in their
respective native/local environments.
In the same
vein, the term ‘ethnoveterinary’ therefore is
currently and increasingly being used in the context
that relatively describes all studies, which concern
local people’s perception and subsequent interaction
with the native/local natural environment with a view
to evaluating that, which can be used to take care
and manage animals’ health.
definition sounds to be more liberal and natural than
the former definitions.
However, it should be
carefully noted that this definition is a combination
of concepts, not originating from one source, but
most likely an outgrowth of Martin’s experience and
related interactions with specialist medicinal remedy
users such as herbalists, hunters, pastoralists,
gatherers, fishermen, gardeners etc., from varied
communities in the field, all over the world.
crucial also to realize that this definition in itself is
relative and not absolute as many readers are most
likely to misunderstand.
Indeed, it is self evident and
follows with logical necessity that this subject forms
a very interesting interdisciplinary area of study,
criss-crossing and encompassing a diverse range of
academic fields such as: – Botany, Chemistry,
Veterinary, Biology, Anthropology, Ecology,
Economics, Linguistics, Sociology, Zoology,
Pharmacology, Geography, Pharmacognosy, Nutrition
and Phytochemistry, in its quest to attain a holistic
vision of local and native ecological knowledge.
Because of its interdisciplinary nature, the term has
been accorded with many other related definitions
emanating from the scope and the depth of its
understanding by different researchers thus
expressing their ethnocentricity.
According to Martin
(1996), and relating to the above argument,
ethnoveterinary in simple terms, is supposed to be a
sub-discipline of ethnoecology, that simply means,
the ‘ecological wisdom of local people regarding
ITDG and IIRR (1996) definition
closely follows that of Mathias-Mundy and McCorkle
While Mathias and Perezgrovas (1997)
definition integrates the tradition context of
understanding science in animal health
management: ‘a whole system that the local people,
through trial and error and also deliberate
‘experimentation’, developed to keep their animals
healthy and productive (and simply say, that is
indigenous animal management and health care
comprising medicines and practices).’
ethnoveterinary knowledge (EVK) as a dynamic
subject that is ever changing and evolving as more
and more information is revealed and gained locally
and or imported and adapted locally (Akabwai et al
According to Akabwai et al (1997),
understanding of EVK, the following four definitions
was retrieved from their descriptions, from which
they adopted the first one. EVK:
is the knowledge that relates to farm-based
strategies of animal production and health in non-
industrialised agricultural and livestock systems,
also known as: ‘existing veterinary knowledge’, is
the fusion of traditional and western information
on the environment, marketing, animal health,
nutrition, and drought coping strategies, disease
patterns, and management strategies,
is that knowledge that is ‘experimental’, magical
or mystical, traditional and experimental in nature,
is the sum of the local knowledge base – both past
In their first definition, they seem to be biased and
denying the fact that in industrialized world, there is
no EVK, when in reality, it is not actually the case.
However, the definition in itself is limiting though
denied and exemplifies the characteristics of
In their second definition, the word
‘western’ when considered as it is used in this paper
and by many advocates of EVK and Ethnoveterinary
Research, Development and Extension (ERD and E),
then, it is wrongly placed in this definition.
presence alone changes the original perception of
EVK and does not now bring out the difference
between the EVK and ‘western’ knowledge, so called
conventional or modern science.
probably were of pro-western ideology and, with the
word ‘fusion’also used in the same definition; it is
unequivocally considered that they probably wanted
to refer to EVK as native/local knowledge.
because, native/local knowledge as explained in this
paper, refers to the knowledge held by natives or
locals and does have its origin in traditional
lifestyles, spiritual philosophy, taboos, social
relations and contest, customs, cultural values, etc.
in their traditions and cultural practices.
is important to note that local knowledge is not
native/indigenous knowledge; the two differ in their
origin, adaptation and application.
knowledge refers to purely original knowledge of a
particular community without any knowledge
coming from outside the community’s traditions and
It is the knowledge held by the natives/
indigenous people and handed down to them from
the previous generations by oral tradition.
local knowledge could be either of natives/
indigenous peopleor immigrants or both and it may
consist of mainly knowledge coming from outside
the community’s traditions and culture (that is,
indigenous knowledge of another community).
However,’western’ knowledge has its own EVK that
can be blended with other EVKs from a cross many
cultures and traditions but this is not the intention of
this word ‘western’ in this particular definition.
third and fourth definitions of Akabwai et al (1997),
have their own limitations also but they however
march with other definitions already mentioned or
yet to be mentioned in this paper.
As the new millennium of 21st Century approached,
either new advocates of EVK described many other
definitions or the old ones modified their old
definitions to cope with the changing and dynamism
times of understanding ethnoveterinary
For example, Mathias (2000) is an old
advocate of the revival and use of traditional
knowledge, who defined the terminology as:
‘traditional practices used by livestock raisers all
over the world to keep their animals healthy and
productive, and to treat and control diseases.’
more or less the same but, nevertheless better in
scope and depth of coverage than what she defined
some 11 years ago (Mathias-Mundy 1989a,b and c),
thus showing a steady growth of interest and
development of research in this subject.
Martin et al
(2001), simply said, ‘it is that which relates to
people’s animal health.’
This definition is so brief and
lacks the required specificity and leaves one
wondering whether it is referring to traditional or
western-style veterinary medicines.
University College of Veterinary Medicine, advocates
of veterinary folk medicine from the Department of
Animal Science, gave it yet another simplistic
definition as ‘local or indigenous knowledge and
methods for caring for, healing, and managing
livestock’ while on the other hand, they also defined
it as ‘the use of plants and traditional methods for
Further, they said, the first
definition includes social practices and ways in which
livestock are incorporated into farming systems and
so preferred that to the second one in their own
In reviewing Dr. Constance M. McCorkle’s work, Dr.
Robert Imrie (Imrie 2005), who in his arguments
appeared to be a cultural anthropologist, described
ethnoveterinary medicine as ‘the study of veterinary
According to him, traditional
veterinary medicine and veterinary folk medicine are
While this is far from distinction or
merging probably for the purpose of understanding,
he further argued that ‘veterinary folk medicine’ has
been, today, transmogrified into the much more
impressive-sounding ‘Ethnoveterinary Research,
Development and Extension (ERD and E)'(McCorkle
The advocates for ERD and E, define it as ‘the
holistic, interdisciplinary study of local knowledge
and its associated skills, practices, beliefs,
practitioners, and the social structures pertaining to
the health care and healthful husbandry of food-,
work- and other income-producing animals, always
with an eye to practical development applications
within livestock production and livelihood systems
and with the ultimate goal of increasing human well
being via increased benefits from stock raising.’
last definition is more elaborate and appreciates the
holism and interdisciplinary nature of
ethnoveterinary subject and people’s quest to attain
a certain status of development in society.
ambition is manifested in people’s development of
an empirical knowledge of remedies from plants and
non-plant materials and other socio-cultural animal
husbandry practices and technologies for solving
animal health-related problems.
The acquisition of
this empirical knowledge was by no means a simple
issue putting into consideration the previously
explained many possible ways by which people must
have used to bring this rich folk medicine knowledge
to its current status (Refer to the last part of the
introduction section of this paper).
definition is exhaustive in itself and as Imrie (2005)
puts it, it deals with ‘brass-tacks factual’
considerations and hence bravo.
From our own
understanding of the application of traditional health
remedies and to that of many others advocating for
its use, the intended functioning and purpose of the
remedy, all are taken care of by the term ‘holistic’ in
the above definition by McCorkle (1998) and because
of that, we will without any reservation, therefore,
consider it a standard definition that should be
recommended for use for the time being.
In addition, holistic is the
most suitable term to apply to ER and D because,
according to AHVMA, its meaning relates too to the
provision for a conducive environment relevant for
the victim animal to recover.
This is because, by its
very nature, holistic medicine is humane to the core
and that the techniques involved are gentle,
minimally invasive, and incorporate the victim
animal’s well being and stress reduction
Moreover, the original use
of the term holistic in ethnoveterinary medicine
highlighted the fact that local people’s ‘science’ does
not follow the western specialization for example,
local people do not necessarily differentiate
veterinary medicine per se and animal husbandry as
western science does but they rather take an
integrated approach to animal health care.
have divisions, they may be different from the
western ones (for instance, they may divide things
up by species and practices may differ accordingly).
In view of the broad definition of the term, holism in
ethnoveterinary medicine by the AHVMA, we really
do not know the intended meaning of this word,
holistic, as it is used by McCorkle (1998) in her
But in summary, we will consider what
AHVMA has abstractly considered the term, holism
to be, ‘the most efficacious, least invasive, least
expensive, and least harmful path to cure and
prevent health-related problems in livestock
It can really be considered that by this
approach, a guided and an effective new level of
livestock health management system will be reached
Nevertheless, this should be taken as the way
forward for the development of delivery of animal
health services to rural and peri-urban communities
in both the developing and the developed countries,
in order that a well-integrated and most sustainable
system is achieved and maintained for livestock
However, it is indeed crucial to note that
the sense in which the word holistic is applied and
considered in contemporary medicine, is slightly
different from the way it is considered in a traditional
In contemporary medicine, the
term holistic is considered on a herd basis, that is,
the entire livestock farming system, while in
ethnoveterinary medicine, it is more strongly
considered on an individual basis than on the herd
While the first definitions were mostly done by
anthropologists and were rather academic in their
wording, covering only veterinary medicine per se,
more recent definitions stem from articles that
address field level workers and general audiences
rather than academicians, veterinarians and
anthropologists, covering a wide range of traditional
veterinary health management aspects.
the wording is different in such sources compared to
papers that are published in academic journals.
implies that while the wording of the definitions
differs, the definitions might still be the same.
However, in view of all these definitions, the authors
wish to adopt their meaning of ethnoveterinary
medicine as: a holistic tradition or local/native
system of livestock health management rooted in
the people’s cultures, customs, taboos and traditions
and adopted by livestock raisers all over the world in
their respective environmental conditions to keep
their animals healthy and productive and to treat
and control diseases and livestock-related problems
by use of medicines, management practices,
information about diseases, animal production and
breeding methods, tools and technologies and
magico-religious beliefs embodied in people’s
traditional and local practices for their own
developments and survival.
Although not absolutely
exhaustive, the author’s definition reflects the
originality, applicability and utility of ethnoveterinary
medicine as perceived and understood in the past
and in today’s world.
This collection of ‘species’ of definitions of the
terminology ‘ethnoveterinary’per se is one of its own
kind in literature and truly reflects people’s struggle
to interpret the terminology in relation to their
culture, customs, profession and unquestionably, in
donors’ favour to suit their needs and research
It clearly shows ethnocentricity in
researchers’ profession, which is a weakness in itself.
With that focus therefore, fear is growing in this kind
of behaviour because, sooner or later, this is most
likely to change and probably ‘dilute’ the originality
of native/indigenous knowledge and eventually lose
its original philosophical meaning, focus, trend and
By this conduct amongst the researchers,
it is greatly feared that the native people who are the
owners of the knowledge, may soon or later, not
recognized, appreciated and in the long run, not
rewarded accordingly as it is expected.
manifestation of this can be justified in this paper!
From the above ‘species’ of definitions of the
terminology ‘ethnoveterinary’, none of the
researchers/western evaluators attempted to define
the terminology with respect to local/native people’s
wishes or even just quoted the definition of the local/
native/indigenous people or veterinary
ethnopractitioners or para vets.
This is not only
surprising but threatening too!
officially recognized safeguards are installed, the
western researchers/western evaluators and the
cream research team of respective societies are in
the process of forcefully taking away and owning
what does not belong to them in any ways!
The traditional knowledge per se
It is worthwhile mentioning and reviewing critically
the use of this phrases:- Traditional knowledge,
Indigenous knowledge, folklore knowledge, Local/
native Knowledge and non-Traditional knowledge, for
which ethnoveterinary knowledge is part and parcel.
Which one is which in the Kingdom of
Indeed, it is a fact that
there are difficulties in defining indigenous
One reason for this difficulty is the fact
that one of the characteristics of indigenous
knowledge is that it is (and has always been)
dynamic and changing.
It is very difficult to capture
something that is in flux.
For instance one would ask,
is the indigenous knowledge only what has been
Is it still indigenous knowledge if it has
been mixed with outside knowledge eg farmers in
the famous Banaue rice terraces started using old
tires to enforce the corners of the walls of their
traditionally built rice fields, – is this still indigenous
Where should the boundary be, between
modern and indigenous knowledge?
development point of view, everything developed by
the native/indigenous population prior to a proposed
intervention makes up the community’s cultural
identity and should be regarded as a starting point
and potential resource for the community’s further
In practical development, the goal is
nearly more important than a water-tight social
The ultimate goal is to build
development on what’s in the community rather
than replacing native/indigenous practices with
introduced ones without evaluating whether the
native/indigenous practices are useful or not.
Many scholars and researchers, particularly those
with the western ideology, have caused confusion in
the philosophical meaning, use and application of
these phrases in today’s world of building on what
we know and practice.
The Alaska Native Science
Commission (ANSC) which endorses and sustains
scientific research that enhances and perpetuates
Alaska Native cultures and ensures the protection of
indigenous cultures and intellectual property, gives a
very sound background of what all these phrases are
all about in a dynamic manner.
Director of ANSC, Dr. Patricia A. L. Cochran was
quoted saying,’When an elder dies, is just like a
library burning down!
“The African Story as told by Africans”.©African News Digest®