A *very* common exchange I have with the general public regarding HIV-1:

Person– Where did HIV-1 come from?
Me– HIV-1 is related to a virus we can find in African primates, SIV. SIV crossed over from chimpanzees to the human population to make ‘HIV’ sometime in the late 1800s, early 1900s. This event happened at least three times, giving us the three groups of HIV-1, Groups M, N, and O, however it most likely has occurred numerous times over the course of human evolution, it just never lead to a pandemic like what we have with HIV-1 today. You can go get blood samples from African hunters right now and find viruses not found in any other human.
Person– *makes a face* From eating monkeys? It wasnt from (whispers) having sex with monkeys?
Me– I seriously doubt it. People in other parts of the world hunt and eat monkeys the same way we hunt and eat deer. Technically, I would actually bet it would be easier to have sex with an unwilling deer than an unwilling chimpanzee. Opposable thumbs and like twice the strength of a human and such.

This observation isnt meant as social commentary, but I do think its *REALLY* funny that some people think it is more believable that we got HIV-1 from having sex with chimpanzees, than from eating chimpanzees. Some yall is messed up. LOL!

Yes, humans around the world do, in fact, eat non-human primates for food. This is a problem from an ecological standpoint, as they are killing endangered creatures, and its a problem from an epidemiological standpoint (see: HIV/AIDS). The next pandemic could be hiding in someones dinner.

And though some of you might be thinking you are safe, thousands of miles away from someone eating a monkey in Africa or SE Asia, Ive got bad news for you. That person sitting across from you in the break room might be eating a MLT (monkey lettuce tomato) sandwich for lunch, cause literally tons of bushmeat (including monkey meat) is illegally exported allllllll over the world. The meat, plus all of their associated viruses. The next pandemic might be *from* Africa, but *start* in Miami. And because all of this stuff is illegal, we have no idea to what degree the transport and sale of the meat is going on, much less the levels of potentially threatening viruses. We dont know what the risk is, but it could be very, very bad.

So various government wildlife and medical research centers got together to test meat confiscated at a New York airport:

Zoonotic Viruses Associated with Illegally Imported Wildlife Products

SPOILER: They found lots of monkeys infected with lots of viruses.

So, if you are a jackass eating illegally imported monkey heads, let me offer a couple bits of advice. 1) Make sure you wear gloves and proper safety precautions while preparing your monkey head. Cutting yourself while butchering could start another pandemic. 2) Make sure you cook your monkey head thoroughly. I know, I love me some raw monkey head as much as anyone else, but consuming raw monkey could start another pandemic.

I swear. Why cant people eat cows and pigs like normal people.

Comments

  1. #1 Spence
    January 12, 2012

    Well, it’s all very well having ideas supported by evidence and stuff, but I checked out skepchick and I now have some different thoughts on the matter.

    Why do we assume the chimp would be the unwilling one? There could well be a chimp patriarchy, who have actively fomented a chimp rape culture. Then any situation – for example, if someone looked at the chimp a bit funny, or perhaps posted rude remarks about the chimp on YouTube, would become a potential rape situation. And I bet the rapist chimp wouldn’t use protection.

    While logic and evidence don’t really support this perspective, and Abbie’s explanation makes far more sense, this does not trouble me; anyone who points out obvious weaknesses in my position will simply be branded a misogynist and a CRA.

  2. #2 Prometheus (the other one)
    January 12, 2012

    Yipes! Having sex with primates would not only be disgusting but also terribly dangerous. In my distant past, I worked with chimpanzees and macaques and was impressed by their strength, speed and, above all, their teeth. There are many reports of “domesticated” chimpanzees causing devastating injury to their owners with little obvious provocation, so I can only imagine what they would do if a human tried forced intercourse with one.

    Even if you don’t eat the monkey (or have sex with it), you can still be infected with their viruses. Hunters are rountinely covered in the blood of their prey when they gut and/or skin them. Any cuts – from skinning knives or broken bone ends – are potential entry sites, as are other areas where skin integrity is compromised (scrapes, sores, etc.). And, of course, there is the possibility of blood splashed into the eyes, mouth or nose.

    In the US (as well as in the UK and EU), we have spent a lot of time and effort to greatly reduce the risk of infectious agents in our meat animals (cows, pigs, chickens, etc.), which has caused some people to become complacent about zoonotic infections on the dinner table. Even so, you’d think people would have noticed E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella and other food-borne illnesses are still around.

    Imagine, then, how much worse is it to eat animals that haven’t been monitored for disease during their lives and during the butchering process. Or, even worse, animals that haven’t been studied for decades to determine what diseases they can pass to humans. Worst of all is eating animals (primates) that are so closely related to us genetically that we can “share” many pathogenic viruses (viruses tend to be much more host-specific than bacteria or eukaryotic parasites).

    No monkey for me, thanks – I had a big lunch.

    Prometheus (the other one)

  3. #3 Stephen Bahl
    January 12, 2012

    What about human heads? Can we eat those raw? Without starting a pandemic, I mean.

  4. #4 dustbubble
    January 12, 2012

    Stephen@ #3: Crikey no ta. Kuru is mad cow 4 people.

    Ooer missus I said “cow“. Can I say that in here?

  5. #5 Prometheus
    January 12, 2012

    Prometheus (the other one)@#2

    “Having sex with primates would not only be disgusting but also terribly dangerous.”

    Speaking as a primate I can, alas, confirm this.

    Prometheus (the lazy one without the interesting blog)

  6. #6 Tony Mach
    January 12, 2012

    But I have learned from my anti-vaxx crank buddies that all zoonotic viruses come from vaccines!!!!1!ONE!!

    (Sorry, I just couldn’t resist).

  7. #7 mo (one of Abbies's elk)
    January 12, 2012

    Joke all you want, orang-utans are documented rapists of human women.

    http://www.salon.com/2001/08/23/primates/

  8. #8 Reed A. Cartwright
    January 12, 2012

    “I know, I love me some raw monkey head as much as anyone else” . . . That’s what she said.

  9. #9 David
    January 12, 2012

    Unless I am misunderstanding things, a virus being ingested is not the problem, you dont really mean by ‘eating’ bush meat – or hamburgers.

    It was the handling of the meat, and its blood that is the problem – i.e butchering the meat gives chances for blood to blood contact just like AIDS?

  10. #10 Stephen Bahl
    January 12, 2012

    Dustbubble: But I wouldn’t spread kuru to everyone else unless I’m sharing my raw heads. And come on, if you were eating raw human heads, would you share?

  11. #11 Spence
    January 12, 2012

    Mo, it doesn’t surprise me in the least, although I think the hunting explanation still seems more plausible route. I did squirm a little when I read from your link “Male orangutans procreate by rape”. As opposed to what, all of the animals that check for consent first?

    David, yes, but the handling of the meat is a direct consequence of wanting to eat it. If you didn’t want to eat it, you probably wouldn’t go diving into the gooey stuff. Mmm, monkey grey matter. It’s offally good.

  12. #12 levi
    January 12, 2012

    Related article: “Looking For Trouble”:
    http://www.nature.com/news/2009/091209/full/462717a.html

  13. #13 windy
    January 12, 2012

    I did squirm a little when I read from your link “Male orangutans procreate by rape”. As opposed to what, all of the animals that check for consent first?

    Basically, yes (of course that’s only as far as we can infer from behavior). But the article exaggerates – it’s mostly young males that resort to forcible copulation, or rape, or whatever we want to call it.

  14. #14 dustbubble
    January 12, 2012

    Stephen @ #10: ” .. come on, if you were eating raw human heads, would you share?
    I’d imagine it’d have been viewed as pretty much non-U behaviour not to share. Dashed poor show!

    Very much a communitarian exercise, the old endocannibalism. Jes’ spreadin’ that good stuff around.

  15. #15 Spence
    January 12, 2012

    Windy, I get the concept of forcible copulation completely, and would have no problem with that usage, but the word rape in the context of animals makes little or no sense.

    It is like calling an animal that kills another over territory or dominance a murderer. It belies an anthropomorphic way of thinking that trips my sceptic alarm bells.

  16. #16 Justicar
    January 12, 2012

    Yes, humans around the world do, in fact, eat non-human primates for food.

    I am scared to contemplate the non-food reasons one would eat a primate.

  17. #17 windy
    January 12, 2012

    It is like calling an animal that kills another over territory or dominance a murderer. It belies an anthropomorphic way of thinking that trips my sceptic alarm bells.

    True, we should be careful of attributing human motives to animals, but going to the other extreme and denying analogies with our closest relatives is equally silly (Frans de Waal calls this ‘anthropodenial’). If there is any group of animals for which some amount of anthropomorphic thinking is justified, it’s probably the anthropoid apes. ‘Rape’ may be too loaded as a word to be useful, but on the other hand many researchers speak of chimpanzee ‘warfare’ without flinching, and ‘murder’ may not be too far off either if you’re talking about chimps.

    Anyway, back to bushmeat from that little semantic diversion. Here’s an article on the genetic identification of bushmeat products:
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090904165105.htm
    The virus study mentioned in Abbie’s post used the same method to identify any animal parts that couldn’t be identified by sight. If you suspect you’re being served illegally imported monkey or anything else, keep a small sample for DNA…

  18. #18 Justicar
    January 12, 2012

    Personally, I prefer primate hands; it sates the rumbling in my tummy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZUPCB9533Y

  19. #19 Mind Over Splatter
    January 12, 2012

    Sometimes I hear from the fundies that HIV is punishment from god for the sin of bestiality. I correct them by saying, “No, it’s gods punishment for the sin of cannibalism.” As far as sex with non-human primates goes, well, there are some things a monkey just won’t do.

  20. #20 EvilYeti
    January 12, 2012

    Awesome article.

    I’ve always suspected the hot monkey sex thing was bullshit (and racist).

  21. #21 Justicar
    January 12, 2012

    I always keep a small sample for DNA, Windy. Monica Lewinski trained me well.

  22. #22 WLU
    January 13, 2012

    Question – can you get HIV via eating primates through means other than cuts in the skin (i.e. butchering)? Is there a risk to just eating the meat?

    I’m not asking because I’m planning to tuck in on a hearty chimpanzee steak, I’m curious about theoretical implications. Through some awkward questions in my youth during sex ed, I was under the impression that oral sex was safe unless you’d just flossed or brushed your teeth. Wondering if this transferred to eating meat.

  23. #23 William Wallace
    January 14, 2012

    If eating monkey meat is bad, using monkey body parts (livers, for example) to grow vaccines must be really bad.

    I wonder if Thimerosal might make the vaccines safer, while keeping production costs down.

  24. #24 Jack
    January 15, 2012

    BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-16514637

    ‘”Exotic wildlife pets and bushmeat are Trojan horses that threaten humankind at sites where they are collected in the developing world as well as the US. Our study underscores the importance of surveillance at ports, but we must also encourage efforts to reduce demand for products that drive the wildlife trade,” said Ian Lipkin of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.’

    All this got me thinking. What can you do to protect yourself against (or after) being bitten by such animals you know if they are pets or even in zoo’s etc.?

  25. #25 herr doktor bimler
    January 15, 2012

    being bitten by such animals you know if they are pets or even in zoo’s etc.?

    I refer you to this important documentary:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Braindead_%28film%29

  26. #26 Jack
    January 15, 2012

    Lol thanks. I see it involves monkey/rat rape as well. Must be a great film as it appears to have everything!!

  27. #27 daedalus2u
    January 15, 2012

    Cooking doesn’t destroy prions. They are still infectious after even extreme cooking.

  28. #28 thecynic
    January 16, 2012

    You made a very good point when you pointed out that, due to the illegal bushmeat trade, the next zoonotic pandemic could quite literally originate anywhere.

    I wonder if perhaps attacking the bushmeat trade as a public health concern, in addition to a criminal one, may help to curb it.

    For instance, a campaign educating the public on the health risks of eating bushmeat may not be a terrible idea. Besides novel zoonotic pathogens (which are a comparatively small risk), bushmeat (and even more traditional “wild” meats such as venison) has a significantly higher risk of carrying well-known infectious parasites and bacteria–especially if it’s not prepared properly. People may gripe about the antibiotics in their farm-raised chicken, but they’d be griping even more if their chicken mcnuggets came with a side order of salmonellosis.

    Maybe even a campaign to raise awareness of bushmeat consumption among primary care physicians in areas where its import / consumption are problematic might help too. That would have the benefit of empowering these physicians to take a more comprehensive history (e.g. asking the patient with the “stomach flu” if they’ve eaten any exotic meats recently) and educate their patients on the risks. After all, most people who ignore the pamphlets in the waiting room do still take emphatic advice from their doctor very seriously.

    Another potential (although highly unpopular) solution might be to legalize the farming of more commonly-consumed bushmeat species. That way, at least, the animals being consumed would be quarantined from wild pathogens and their meat could be inspected by health officials, thus minimizing the associated health risks.

  29. #29 dustbubble
    January 16, 2012

    thecynic@28: ” ..perhaps attacking the bushmeat trade as a public health concern, in addition to a criminal one, may help to curb it.”

    Dunno about that. As far as I know, the manky stuff is avidly sought after for somewhat less-than-rational reasons.

    To do with non-verifiable mystic “qualities” of the carrion, enhancing all sorts of powers the saddoes who eat it feel they manifestly lack.
    Surrounded as they are (in the 1st World, anyway) by the greatest oversupply of top-quality grub humanity has ever known, since the last glaciation at least.

    It’s as much “strong medicine”, as munchies.

    It’d be like demanding “civilised” people stop chomping on tiger-dongs and rhino-horn. Or multi-vitamins.
    Reasoning won’t make much of a dent on an a-scientific mindset.
    As we have all seen, in other matters.

    Even bribery (setting up branches of Maccy-D’s in the jungle? Sending round the Waitrose truck for free, to people here whose culture demands the odd affen-schnitzel?) won’t cut it.

  30. #30 eddie
    January 16, 2012

    Did somebody mention Monkey Fluids?…

    http://www.monkeyfluids.com/up.html

  31. #31 David
    January 16, 2012

    I had wondered who the demographic was for your blog. Now I see, at least in part, that it is some, or all maybe, members of the horse family, as long as they can read anyway.

  32. #32 Justicar
    January 16, 2012

    @ David: I rather think we belong to another animal possessed of aradicular hypsodont dentition; namely, the lagomorphs. =^_^=

  33. #33 herr doktor bimler
    January 16, 2012

    the demographic was for your blog [...] is some, or all maybe, members of the horse family, as long as they can read anyway

    Houyhnhnms? Neigh!

  34. #35 Jack
    January 16, 2012

    Vincent also – apart from the great pictures – makes some more important points regarding the sensational reporting of this ‘find’ when compared to what was actually discovered in the Plos One research. So maybe them monkey heads were all right to much on after all?! :)

  35. #36 Spence
    January 17, 2012

    OK, just one more post on the monkeys committing rape thing (which I originally raised as a joke… must learn not to make jokes, they drag threads soooo far off topic). But since IANAB, I am acutely aware I can say stupid stuff on the topic, so I asked an IRL biologist friend of mine about orangutan rape.

    His answer, in summary, was something along the lines of “orangutan rape is pretty much the stupidest fucking thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life”. I lol’d.

    I commented on the journalists article, and he replied addressing two points:

    1. Orangutans raping humans. He said this was pretty much physically impossible. The reason is quite funny, too. Apparently, orangutans have TINY cocks. I mean, REALLY tiny. Even with full morning glory and a stick strapped to it for support, there is no way they could “get it in”, at least not without considerable assistance from the “victim”. Apparently, humans have the biggest cocks of all primates. Who knew? Quite proud now, actually :smug:

    If an orangutan tries to mount a human (unlikely, but possible), it would be just like a dog trying to hump your leg. Unless you consider that to be rape as well, there is a degree of inconsistency. Also, there is no reason why orangutans would favour human females (as implied by the article) because the orangutan simply would not be able to tell the difference.

    2. Orangutans procreating through rape. Equally wrong, for a number of reasons. Primarily anthropomorphism. Orangutan males are apparently live isolated lives, territorial and aggressive. It’s just the way they are. To succeed in penetrative sex, the female must be on heat and receptive. (See tiny cock thing, above). Although sex might be aggressive, it isn’t rape, it is the way they mate. To call it rape is just daft.

    He gave another example of this. When sharks mate, the male bites the head of the female. You could equally call this assault or rape. But you would be equally wrong to do so. Sharks don’t have arms, you see, and sex in the ocean is a bit of a problem because after one push you tend to start drifting in opposite directions. The shark needs to hold on, so that’s where the biting comes in. This could easily be misconstrued as sexual assault or rape if we apply human characteristics. But it isn’t. Quite simply, it is how they mate.

    Anyway, this cuts both ways. Not only should we be wary of anthropomorphism when studying animal behaviour, I don’t want to hear about any of you lot being involved in head biting during sex after reading this post. That includes you, Justicar. Are we clear? Good.

  36. #37 hannah's dad
    January 18, 2012

    Spence
    I have not read the article referred to in your comment #36 but in her book ‘Reflections of Eden” Birute Galdikas, who is possibly the world expert on wild orangutans having studied them for decades, describes witnessing an orang ‘raping’ a local woman in Sumatra.
    I can’t give you page number, there is no index in the book, but the description is in there somewhere.

  37. #38 Spence
    January 18, 2012

    #37

    If Galdikas did call that rape, and assuming she has a good understanding of orangutans, then I can only conclude she doesn’t understand what rape is.

    As I explained above: unless you want to call it rape every time a dog humps someones leg (OMG! animals rape humans on a daily basis throughout the world!!1!), then rape is entirely the wrong word. If she did actually use that word in her book, then it reflects poorly on her.

  38. #39 Spence
    January 18, 2012

    LOL

    Hannah’s dad, I checked out what I could about Reflections of Eden. I haven’t read the book myself yet, so this is second hand, but speaking to someone who has – apparently Dr Goldikas does not call it rape, she notes there is a myth of rape within the local community and she herself compares what actually happens to a dog humping someones leg.

    If this is accurate (I’d like to read the reference myself to be sure) it seems that her view is really no different from mine. It seems Dr Goldikas has gone up very high in my estimation :) And I’m glad I caveated my #38 with “if she did actually use that word in her book”!!!

  39. #40 hannah's dad
    January 18, 2012

    Spence
    I’m not arguing about the meaning of the word, which is why I typed it as ‘rape’ above, but there is a reference in the book to a sex act committed by an orang on a Sumatran woman.
    I have the book here but finding the exact description will be a pain. Bear with me, I’ll check it out.

  40. #41 windy
    January 18, 2012

    #36: earlier you said that you have no problem with the concept of forcible mating in animals, just with the terminology, but what your friend argues is that sex in orangutans can’t possibly be forced. Which argument are you defending now?

    It also sounds like your friend is unaware of some orangutan behaviors, for example see
    Stumpf, RM, M Emery Thompson, and CD Knott (2008). A comparison of female mating strategies in Pan troglodytes and Pongo spp. International Journal of Primatology 29: 865-884:
    “Orangutan females display no visual signal of receptivity such as a sexual swelling, and orangutan males initiate copulations at all times of the cycle (Fox 1998; Nadler
    1982, 1988).”
    “In orangutans, Fox (2002) reported that Suaq females resisted 36% of male mating attempts, which is similar to the 30% resistance rate observed at Gunung Palung (Knott et al. 2007). Forced copulations are considerably more common in orangutans, occurring with both flanged and unflanged males (Table I). Unlike chimpanzees, orangutan female resistance rarely prevents mating once physical contact has been established (Fox 1998; Galdikas 1985a), though the differing operational definitions of resistance for each genus preclude direct comparison. At Kutai, females were able to struggle free in only 7–8% of forced mating attempts (Mitani 1985) similar to Gunung Palung (Knott et al. 2007).”

    unless you want to call it rape every time a dog humps someones leg

    I wouldn’t but it’s not “forced copulation” either. Your friend’s examples argue that the mating in question is not really forced, it’s only “misconstrued” that way. These are all bait-and-switch responses that are not too relevant to the original question.

    disclaimer: IAAB, BNAPrimatologist.

  41. #42 hannah's dad
    January 18, 2012

    Found it [incidentally my apologies if this entire section is off topic].
    Page 293ff.
    An extract:
    “Suddenly Gundul [a male orang] grabbed the cook by the legs and wrestled her down to the platform …I began to realize that Gundul did not intend to harm the cook but had something else in mind….Gundul was very calm and deliberate. He raped the cook……
    [traditional people] don’t seem particularly upset by such incidents. In their view, an orang raping a person was no more shameful than a leopard jumping out of a tree and attacking someone – and much safer….
    Wild orangs seemed to view humans as alien beings …But Gundul had been raised by humans since infancy …Not surprisingly he related sexually to women as well as to female orangs”

    I have omitted [hopefully obviously] a fair bit but have attempted to keep the essence of Galdikas’ account.

  42. #43 WLU
    January 18, 2012

    Not to put too fine a point to it, but…

    Does it say whether the orang, ahem, penetrated the cook? Or did the orang “dry hump” the cook to ejaculation? While either would certainly be traumatic, painful, embarassing and terrifying, I wouldn’t call both “rape” and I wouldn’t put them in the same mental category – particularly since we’re not talking about two humans. Were it two humans I’d put them both in the same mental basket (but perhaps different compartments) of “sexual assault”.

  43. #44 Spence
    January 18, 2012

    Windy, I think we’re talking at cross purposes here. It may be that I haven’t been clear enough.

    At no point have I intended to imply that I question the “forcible copulation” description. This is straightforward, objective, measurable. Copulation – check. Force used – check. No problem. My comments were a list of reasons as to why “rape” is inappropriate. Apologies if that wasn’t clear.

    I stand by the two analogies I made (usual caveat about analogies apply – they are to aid understanding, not necessarily like-for-like) but I think you are confusing two parts of what I said. I split the discussion into two separate aspects: orangutan on orangutan and orangutan on human. The dog humping a leg comparison is with respect to the latter. The shark example references the former. You seem to be discussing the dog humping situation with respect to the former, which is an example I do not think I used (at least, I did not intend to, anyway).

    Anyway, thanks for the evidence regarding receptivity of the female, particular the measurements of when copulation occurs with respect to the cycle. Clearly, that part of my comment was not correct (and is most likely to be me misinterpreting my friends’ commentary). However, I don’t think it changes my position.

    The other thing I’ll note is that rape is incredibly difficult to determine even when humans are involved and we can talk to them about it. Rape cases in the UK have a 5% conviction rate, because it is so difficult to determine whether a rape took place or not. The belief we can determine rape in animals seems to me to require astonishing hubris.

  44. #45 Spence
    January 18, 2012

    Hannah’s dad, thanks for the extract. I did note that the comment I saw (which was not from my biologist friend!) was second hand and not entirely reliable, so I was keen to see the text. However, seeing it puts me in no doubt: I revert to my earlier view on Dr Galdikas, this line being a glaring example of unmeasurable BS:

    “Not surprisingly he related sexually to women as well as to female orangs”

    This is a classic example of the type of anthropomorphism that makes me shake my head. Well, he’s a male, of course he’ll go after women. What? This raises so many questions. Can an orangutan meaningfully distinguish human males and females, and even given this, preferentially select human females to “sexually relate” to?

    I assume that (given witnesses were present) the cook was clothed. How did the orangutan know to undress the cook in order to “rape” her? A human committing rape knows to do this, but I don’t see how an orangutan would. If the orangutan didn’t undress the cook, how on earth did a creature with such a small penis achieve penetration?

    Implying rape, sexual preference for women, etc, shows that Dr Galdikas is presenting a picture of orangutans through the lens of human societal norms, and produces anthropomorphic explanations which I sincerely doubt we have the capability to gather evidence for.

    I’m afraid spending decades studying the animals doesn’t automatically grant you the ability to remain objective about what you have seen. I’m sure the romantic notion that she knew what the orangutan was thinking both gave her comfort and helped to sell her book. I don’t see any scientific merit to it though. (Not to say there aren’t other scientifically useful parts to the book, of course, as I have not read it)

  45. #46 windy
    January 18, 2012

    At no point have I intended to imply that I question the “forcible copulation” description. This is straightforward, objective, measurable. Copulation – check. Force used – check. No problem.

    I don’t think you do understand the concept as it is used in biology- it’s not as simple as “force used”: as you noted many species have rather rough mating habits, and it depends on an interpretation of the behavior, whether it subverts female choice or not. So something like the shark biting while mating, or a male cat biting on the female’s neck wouldn’t be termed “forcible copulation” although it involves force.

  46. #47 randyextry
    January 26, 2012

    I’m guessing you probably know this already and you were just a bit careless, but since a few comments make the same mistake, I’ll mention it…chimps aren’t monkeys.

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