The trials and tribulations of vampires and cattle in Mexico

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We find a vampire trapped in a net just after dusk. Dolores Manzano from the Comité de Fomento y Salud Animal del Estado de Puebla, an expert in the habits of these bats, explains to us that the vampires always approach along the ground when they come to attack the cattle. That explains why they lay the traps on the ground next to the enclosure where the cattle will spend the night.

This vampire was undoubtedly on its way to suck blood from one of the animals belonging to Jesús Bando, member of the Puebla Rancher’s Association. Jesús tells us that whenever they inspect the cattle they always find a number of cattle with vampire wounds. Although it is dark and it is difficult to spot the wounds by torchlight, Jesus takes us to inspect part of his herd.

Maybe it is the lack of light, or perhaps the vampire ‘problem’ is not as bad as it is sometimes made out to be, but we don’t find any recent wounds on any of the 50 or so nervous cows we inspect. Nevertheless, the captured vampire and the still suppurating wound behind the ear of his horse are proof enough of the problem and a strong enough reason for Jesús to stand firm in his conviction: the populations of blood-sucking bats must be controlled. He insists that the anti-rabies vaccine does not solve all the problems caused by the vampires’ attacks since they repeatedly attack the smallest calves, taking advantage of the wounds they have already inflicted. This can weaken the animal, which may die. The vets of the Comité de Fomento y Salud Animal del Estado de Puebla that accompany us just shrug their shoulders when we ask them if they have come across this particular problem or if they know how serious it is. The little patch of jungle that, with the magical flight of the toucan, seemed so joyous by day, now takes on a much more sinister and mysterious aspect.

Whatever the truth of the matter, before releasing the bat the vets daub its back with a ‘vampiricide’ cream. Although both the ranchers and the vets are used to using it, to the more incredulous of us it resembles the product of the over-active imagination of a comic-book writer. Badly hiding our scepticism, we ask to inspect the label, on which the product’s principal active ingredient is announced as bromadiolone (“broma” meaning “joke” in Spanish), which only serves to increase our cynicism. But, as Arturo Córdova, the Comité’s vet explains, vampires are very sociable and lick each other when they mutually preen. In this way, the poison spreads through the colony and perhaps as many as a dozen bats will succumb to it. In this way, vampire populations are kept down. Bromadiolone is a very effective anticoagulant and causes death by internal bleeding. In the end, the truth dispels our initial almost comic impression of this method of bat control.

Still in the municipality of Hueytamalco and just a few kilometres away (but quite a long drive enlivened by various skids and getting stuck in the mud), we reach the neat ranch belonging to Gabriel de la Sierra, rancher and another member of the Comité. As he vaccinates some of his zebu cattle, the hardy local breed, he talks about the efforts being made by the government to ensure that the rabies prevention campaigns reach all ranchers. The cost of the vaccine, which is calculated on an annual basis, is around 10 Mexican pesos per animal (about 0.60€), while a kilo of meat is sold at about 100 pesos. Given that up to 2–3% of animals can die in a rabies outbreak, the losses that can accrue if the vaccine is not used are obvious. For Gabriel, there are no good reasons for not vaccinating cattle once the figures are worked out since, furthermore, the treatment is subsidized by the government. Making ranchers more aware and more knowledgeable is the key to the question and the Comité’s work is largely aimed at controlling rabies outbreaks and those of other infectious diseases that affect cattle herds.

Zebu cattle on Gabriel de la Sierra’s ranch
Zebu cattle on Gabriel de la Sierra’s ranch
Gabriel showing us the vaccines
Gabriel showing us the vaccines
Vaccinating the cattle
Vaccinating the cattle
Jesús Bando at the entrance to his ranch
Jesús Bando at the entrance to his ranch
Cow herders in the jungle
Cow herders in the jungle
Fresh wound behind the ear
Fresh wound behind the ear
Tied-up cattle are easy to attack night-after-night
Tied-up cattle are easy to attack night-after-night
‘Vampiricide’ cream
‘Vampiricide’ cream
Car stuck in the mud
Car stuck in the mud