Mining Bats in Mount Nimba

Project Lead: Emmanuelle Roth

How to relate fragments of a virus to the fragment of the forest where they were extracted? This project tells a story about the bats of Mount Nimba, a forested mountain range that stretches across Liberia, Guinea, and Côte d’Ivoire. It is in a Nimba long-fingered bat, which roosted in an abandoned mine adit at the end of the 2010s, that the only traces of the Zaire Ebola virus in West Africa – the one that caused the largest Ebola epidemic – were detected. Mined for iron ore since the 1960s, this transboundary region and its “biodiversity” rank among the most surveyed in Africa. Bat populations in particular have attracted major interest from natural history, conservation science, and lately, virology. This trajectory has transformed the ways in which these animals, and the industrial landscape that they inhabit, are understood, valued, and cared for.

This project situates global health knowledge in infrastructures of extraction, which contribute to making “hot spots,” epistemologically and materially. It integrates ethnographic fieldwork on bat sampling and ecotourism with an environmental history of the mining industry and its contribution to the sciences. How do “hot spots” mobilize new framings of multispecies interactions and biological threats? How are vulnerabilities acted on by scientific institutions and economic interests? Some bat species appear to thrive in mosaic habitats, which offer them a greater variety of roosts and foods. This is why corporate conservation schemes try to connect forest patches through green corridors where bats may move freely and without risk to human health. In querying the reconnection of fragments, which entails a temporal politics and a hubristic vision, this project reflects on the way corporate social responsibility reshapes epidemic responsibilities in the Anthropocene.