'Everybody knows', but the rest of the world: the case of a caterpillar-borne reproductive loss syndrome in dromedary camels observed by Sahrawi pastoralists of Western Sahara
Background: The traditional knowledge of local communities throughout the world is a valuable source of novel ideas and information to science. In this study, the ethnoveterinary knowledge of Sahrawi pastoralists of Western Sahara has been used in order to put forward a scientific hypothesis regarding the competitive interactions between camels and caterpillars in the Sahara ecosystem. Methods: Between 2005 and 2009, 44 semi-structured interviews were conducted with Sahrawi pastoralists in the territories administered by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Western Sahara, using a snow-ball sampling design. Results: Sahrawi pastoralists reported the existence of a caterpillar-borne reproductive loss syndrome, known locally as duda, affecting their camels. On the basis of Sahrawi knowledge about duda and of a thorough literature review, we built the hypothesis that: 1) caterpillars of the family Lasiocampidae (genera Lasiocampa, Psilogaster, or Streblote) have sudden and rare outbreaks on Acacia treetops in the Western Sahara ecosystem after heavy rainfall; 2) during these outbreaks, camels ingest the caterpillars while browsing; 3) as a consequence of this ingestion, pregnant camels have sudden abortions or give birth to weaklings. This hypothesis was supported by inductive reasoning built on circumstantiated evidence and analogical reasoning with similar syndromes reported in mares in the United States and Australia. Conclusions: The possible existence of a caterpillar-borne reproductive loss syndrome among camels has been reported for the first time, suggesting that such syndromes might be more widespread than what is currently known. Further research is warranted to validate the reported hypothesis. Finally, the importance of studying folk livestock diseases is reinforced in light of its usefulness in revealing as yet unknown biological phenomena that would deserve further investigation.