“Simba! Simba!” a villager calls for his dog. Simba appears from some faraway field and begins to trot over. Simba spots the muzzle and leash, stops dead in his tracks and takes off in a cloud of dust. So, these dogs are not exactly trained or used to human contact, for that matter.
We have been marking dogs in Buyubi village for more than a week now for our study on the demography of domestic dogs. We’re comparing survival and reproduction in dogs that have been vaccinated under the Serengeti Health Initiative and those that have not. Marking them with microchips and tattoos is important for recognizing them when we visit next year.
I am realizing that catching free-roaming dogs is going to require some extra patience. Sometimes there are four, five, even six dogs in a household, but we only manage to mark one as they all take off the minute they see what we’re doing to their friend. Once we do catch a dog, we have to work quickly to collect data about its body condition, any injuries and distinctive marks. We only have a few minutes to finish data collection and marking as they do get stressed out, and we still need some photographs.
I am including photographs in my research, though the dogs are not too keen on my paparazzi ambitions. Just like a Hollywood celebrity with a bad hair day, the dogs will often run away before we even try to catch them if I try to approach with a camera. Getting good pictures requires stealth, speed, cunning and a safari-worthy zoom lens. I often try to snap pictures from the car, or from behind a house, much like a paparazzi stalker. Even then sometimes the only picture I’m able to get is the infamous “butt shot”—the rear end of a dog getting away from me as fast as possible.