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Class and canicide in little Bess: The 1893 Port Elizabeth rabies epidemic

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Chapter Summary

Historians of southern Africa have long recognised the value of epidemic diseases in sharply illuminating social and mental landscapes of the past in ordinary times otherwise obscured from view. Rabies was different, being at once an epidemic of urban animals and one incubated by the middle class. In 1892, with imported canine mania at its height, it was left to the newly appointed colonial bacteriologist to remind that rabies ?may assuredly be expected to arrive sooner or later in these days of quick steam traffic?. By the time of writing the disease was already spreading, as yet undetected, among Port Elizabeth?s canine population. The rabies epidemic and its suppression completely altered the urban ecology of Port Elizabeth. The extreme evolutionary pressure of canicide produced a surviving feral dog population that was nocturnal and defied all efforts at final extirpation.

Keywords: Canicide; canine mania; Port Elizabeth; rabies



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