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Tuesday, September 28, 2010
“So here I was, sleeping off a busy night guarding my household’s goats from a band of cackling hyenas, when all of sudden there are six people surrounding me and strapping some funny thing called a muzzle to my face! Now they’re combing through my hair and looking into my ears and oh no….what? They want to collect poop!?! And tattoo me?? Yikes! What is going on? Who is this crazy lady comparing doggie lives between vaccinated and unvaccinated dogs. I don’t even know what vaccinations are!”
I can only imagine something like this going through my study dogs’ minds when we bring them into my research study. I am comparing population dynamics of dogs in villages west of Serengeti National Park to determine the impact of rabies vaccinations. You may be wondering, what exactly does that involve?
Well, capturing a dog is only the beginning. Because these dogs aren’t always accustomed to restraint or close contact with people, they can be a little unpredictable. So, safety first, meaning each and every dog gets a “party hat” or muzzle to prevent them from hurting us, their owners or themselves (teeth snagged on shirts, pants and human hands can hurt too I suppose).
Next, we look for fleas and ticks on their body and in their ears (a favorite hideout for these critters), assess body condition and look for any scars, snapping pictures as quickly as we can. These dogs can get nervous, especially since they’re not used to all this touching, so we have to work quickly.
We snip off a piece of hair (usually from the tail to avoid any potential bad-hair days) for dietary analysis back in Chicago—more on that in later blogs. Then we collect some poop for hormone analysis (more on that later as well).
Finally, we mark each dog with microchips donated by Intervet/Schering-Plough and ear tattoos. This is important for recognizing dogs in the coming years as many of these dogs look alike. The microchip is a quick injection under the skin (just like a vaccination) and feels like a tiny pinch.
The tattoo usually stings for a few seconds, and it probably feels a bit weird getting the ink smeared inside your ear. Most dogs squirm a little, and some even growl, but by the time we’re done, they seem to forgot what went on—though I’m sure the doggie treats we give them help with that.
I will be revisiting each doggie every year for the next three years (to track life expectancy, birth and death rates), so hopefully they won’t hold too big of a grudge against me. As you can see by the “smiles” on these last two dogs, treats go a long way. Note to self: bring more treats!
Serengeti Field Diaries
Lincoln Park Zoo is leading the Serengeti Health Initiative, a collaborative effort to preserve the wildlife of this African ecosystem while benefiting local people. Our Serengeti field diaries feature updates as scientists conduct vaccination efforts, collaborate with Tanzanian partners and encounter the Serengeti’s famed wildlife.
Rachel Santymire, Ph.D.
An endocrinologist in the Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology, Santymire studies stress and reproduction at the zoo and in the wild.
A graduate student in the department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Anna is studying how rabies vaccination campaigns of domestic dogs in villages around Serengeti National Park affect population dynamics.
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