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155253.  Fri Mar 09, 2007 7:14 am Reply with quote

Here's another account, well referenced.


In the early 1950s, the United States parachuted some three thousand cats into a remote region of Malaysia, in the northern part of the island of Borneo. The cats, fortunately, did not have their own individual parachute harnesses, but were in cages that sprang open on contact with the ground.
(story from Fagerlund, 2003).

'Fagerlund' is Richard Fagerlund, an entomologist at the University of New Mexico.

*Note that this time it's the US who transported the cats rather than the WHO.

155254.  Fri Mar 09, 2007 7:16 am Reply with quote

That study also contains this:

Malaria rates in Africa are now higher than they are ever known to have been, except for Swaziland where DDT use was never stopped.

155267.  Fri Mar 09, 2007 7:49 am Reply with quote

Parachuting cats:

There are two documents that substantiate the basic story about the Paracats. The first is an article by Gordon R. Conway in The Careless Technology: Ecology and International Development (1972) and the second is a first-hand account of “Operation Cat-drop” by Tom Harrisson in the journal Animals published in 1965.

The basic story is true: A malaria-control project carried out by the WHO between 1959 and 1961, in the Sarawak region of northern Borneo resulted in DDT being ingested by cockroaches living in the longhouses of the Dayaks. The dead cockroaches were in turn eaten by house cats which led to the deaths of all of the Dayaks’ cats and an explosion in the rat population.

According to Harrisson, surplus cats from coastal regions were donated and shipped inland to Dayak villages but some had to be air-dropped by parachute in “special containers” by the Royal Air Force. Neither author gives a specific number of cats that were pressed into service in Operation Cat-Drop in 1959 so I still haven’t figured out where the 14,000 figure comes from.

But the bottom line is that with the exception of a few other embellishments, the story is basically correct. In 1959, the RAF replenished the feline population of the Sarawak region of Borneo by parachuting cats into villages to replace those who had been killed in a WHO malaria control program that used DDT.

By the way, I also sent a couple of e-mails to the World Health Organization about this and despite my promise to sing their praises forever in my classes if they helped me with this story, I’ve yet to hear back from them.

Maybe the WHO is just tired of people asking them about DDT, cats and parachutes.

The referenced first-hand account is at
and makes it clear that this was a British, not an American operation. The other article is at this page, but its source is the Harrisson first-hand account so it doesn't add anything for our purposes.

Last edited by Flash on Fri Mar 09, 2007 8:01 am; edited 1 time in total

155271.  Fri Mar 09, 2007 7:58 am Reply with quote

So we're happy with the story? That's a relief, I was beginning to embrace myself for a scathing debunk

155273.  Fri Mar 09, 2007 8:02 am Reply with quote

I think everything but the 14,000 figure looks safe.

155284.  Fri Mar 09, 2007 8:17 am Reply with quote

A couple of years ago, someone wrote to me at Mythconceptions about the parachuted cats, wanting to know if it was as mythical as it sounded. I spent a couple of days on it, but could never find anything that suggested it was untrue, and lots that suggested it was true.

The only caution I would have ... I began to suspect that few of the cats were “parachuted” (which in itself is not quite as wonderful as it sounds; presumably they were parachuted in crates, like any other cargo or disaster relief or materiel might be), as opposed to being transported in more mundane ways (by water or road).

What I’m saying, I suppose, is that, to my taste, the parachuting is the least interesting part of a very interesting “there was an old woman who swallowed a fly” story about epidemiology.

155309.  Fri Mar 09, 2007 9:06 am Reply with quote

Flash wrote:
And when it was taken to South America the vaccine couldn't be kept alive for the length of the sea journey so they injected it into passengers and then extracted the antibodies at the other end (or something - I may have garbled the techicalities on that one).

They used orphan children to transport it, according to Jenny:

post 20467

Try getting that past NICE these days :)

155465.  Sat Mar 10, 2007 6:37 am Reply with quote

Really good pesticide fact here which could go into "operation cat drop" notes.

Apparently Stradivarius violins owe their distinctive sound to pesticides used to treat the wood against woodworm.


The conclusions, published in the current issue of Nature magazine, have confirmed 30 years of work into the subject by Joseph Nagyvary, professor emeritus of biochemistry at Texas A&M University, who was the first to theorize that chemicals – not necessarily the wood – created the unique sound of the two violins. Nagyvary teamed with collaborators Joseph DiVerdi of Colorado State University and Noel Owen of Brigham Young University on the project.

“This research proves unquestionably that the wood of the great masters was subjected to an aggressive chemical treatment and the chemicals – most likely some sort of oxidizing agents – had a crucial role in creating the great sound of the Stradivarius and the Guarneri,” Nagyvary says.

In fact, I like this fact so much that I don't know whether it deserves to be more than a note.

155483.  Sat Mar 10, 2007 8:37 am Reply with quote

Apparently, in a debunking-global-warming polemic film on TV this week, a mosquito expert dismantled the widely-held (I would say, almost universally held!) belief that mosquitoes thrive only in hot places. He says that not only is that not true, but that the worst ever outbreak of malaria was in a cold area of the USSR. A (very brief, one-eye-on-the-rugby) google seems to confirm that mosquitoes don’t care how cold your winters are. The expert’s point was that warmer winters will not lead to tropical diseases becoming rampant via mosquito in the British Isles. But from our point of view, is this an epidemiological GenIg?

Link to Entomology

Last edited by MatC on Mon Mar 12, 2007 7:39 am; edited 1 time in total

155535.  Sat Mar 10, 2007 4:33 pm Reply with quote

Apparently Stradivarius violins owe their distinctive sound to pesticides used to treat the wood against woodworm.

I'd read of a Stradivarius theory which mentioned that the wood for the violins was floated down the river to the warehouses, and sat in very damp conditions for a while, soaked in the the various levels of detritus and human waste, ironically.

Q: What makes Stradivarius so great?
A: Crap.

I'll try to find a source when I've had less wine. *cough*

155538.  Sat Mar 10, 2007 4:47 pm Reply with quote

And another one about how the wood was denser because of the colder weather associated with the Maunder Minimum prevailing when it was growing.

155989.  Tue Mar 13, 2007 5:36 am Reply with quote

There was an interesting programme on the radio this morning about digestion, in which An Expert spoke of why some people are fat and some are thin. Crudely put, in a tribe it is optimal to have some thin, fast people who will hunt animals, and some big buggers who will survive famine. Any tribe which becomes all fat or all thin, said Expert, dies out.

So: if the health terrorists, with their loony-tunes Body Mass Index, and their nutty idea that there is such a thing as an ideal weight for each height, were to succeed in their aim of making all humans the same weight - the human tribe would die out.

Luckily, I suppose, it’s physically impossible for them to succeed; people are largely born to their shape, and dieting and exercise make very little basic difference.

156002.  Tue Mar 13, 2007 6:04 am Reply with quote

When I say that, my mother-in-law - to whom the PC revolution has yet to find its way - says "How come there were no fat people in concentration camps?"

156010.  Tue Mar 13, 2007 6:22 am Reply with quote

Because they were dying, not dieting! This is quite an important point: all the research I've ever seen suggests that it is not generally possible to make a sustainable change to BMI through dieting or exercise. Starving, however, is a lot more long-term.

156016.  Tue Mar 13, 2007 6:26 am Reply with quote

I'll tell her.


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