Zoonotic disease risk is greatly influenced by cultural practices and belief systems. Yet, few studies have investigated how different ways of knowing are commensurate with one another in the context of zoonotic disease. By stressing methodological pluralism and explicitly challenging the nature-culture dichotomy, an ethnoprimatological approach is particularly well suited to bridging different ontologies for understanding zoonotic transmission. We seek to integrate molecular phylogenetics, histopathology, and ethnography to characterize a filarial nematode found within the abdominal cavity of spider monkeys (Ateles paniscus). The filarid is recognized as “spider monkey cotton” by Indigenous Waiwai in the Konashen Community Owned Conservation Area, Guyana. Ethnographic data revealed that the Waiwai perceive of “spider monkey cotton” as a normal characteristic within the “spider monkey person.” Furthermore, the Waiwai indicated that “cotton” was ubiquitous with spider monkeys and is not understood to be infectious nor zoonotic. This distinction is in contrast to other internal parasites found within spider monkeys that the Waiwai believe cause disease in both monkeys and humans. Our morphological and molecular characterization support the classification of the filarid as Dipetalonema caudispina, a minimally studied, nonzoonotic parasite. While this identification contrasts with Waiwai understanding of the filarid as a component of the spider monkey itself, the ubiquity of the filarid in spider monkeys in the region and its nonzoonotic nature suggest scientific knowledge and Waiwai ontology are commensurate. More broadly, this work highlights the importance of integrating multiple knowledge systems and leveraging advanced genomics to better understand and prevent emerging zoonotic diseases.
- Local ecological knowledge
- Wild meat
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Animal Science and Zoology