Veterinary team treats hundreds of domestic Masai dogs


In May an international team of veterinary students and veterinarians worked in Marariata village

In May an international team of veterinary students and veterinarians vaccinated and castrated a large number of domestic dogs as part of the Mara North Conservancy Dog Project. Masai dog owners are happy about the project and line up for treatments.

The project’s eight-day workshop and clinic was wonderfully successful. With the help of Dr. Gabriel Turasha from the VetAid organization and local veterinarian James Leyian Nayetuni, numerous castration and spay procedures were pre-arranged with a number of dog owners.

Five veterinary students from the University of Copenhagen, two from Tufts University, USA, and three veterinary interns from Nairobi University recently participated in the Mara North Conservancy (MNC) Dog Project of the Karen Blixen Camp Trust (KBCT). The project was financed by KBCT and Englunds Fond. Rikke Langebæk, Associate Professor, Department of Clinical Veterinary Medicine, at the University of Copenhagen, is the project manager.

The overall aim of the project is to limit the number of domestic dogs within the Masai Mara ecosystem and to prevent the spread of diseases from domestic dogs to wild fauna. A goal is to increase the local understanding of the value of having fewer, healthy dogs instead of a larger population of malnourished, intestinal parasite-infected dogs, that are generating too many litters of puppies.

Dr. Stephen DeVincent, Chair of the Board of Trustees, Karen Blixen Camp Trust

Interim clinic set up in Elephantee Bar in the village

In preparation for creating the temporary clinic Dr. Turasha had rented a building on the edge of the center of Mararienta. The building is an annex of the local Elephantee Bar and Restaurant that is typically open during the high tourist season. In May, however, it was transformed into a viable clinic irrespective that on the walls there were advertisements for various kinds of alcohol.  

The arranged team refurbished the premises: fragile tables were secured from collapsing with available materials; operating tables were constructed at the right height; and a room with large windows at one end of the building was made to function as the surgery suite. In the main room, a pool table at its center became the “supply area”, a surgical prep area was created at one end, along a side wall a laboratory was placed, and in another corner couches were arranged for the students and veterinarians to rest in between surgeries – the ‘lounge area’. Three small rooms along one side of the building, with windows facing the center of the room, functioned very well as recovery rooms when the dogs came out of surgery – the ‘post-surgical unit’. 

It was a wonderful team-building experience for the newly comprised team of students and veterinary interns creating the clinic. The international group of students expressed that they surprised themselves at their collective accomplishment. The “bar” had been transformed into a “hospital”. And during the first day the students themselves developed protocols for making an ‘ear-notch’ (for future identification), a manual for sterilization of instruments, a protocol for anesthesia and for other procedures. They created solutions and filled in the gaps, which they could not have anticipated in advance.

31 dogs castrated

The dog were picked up at their owners’ homesteads, which was prearranged by a member of the team. Upon arrival at the makeshift clinic the patients were sedated after which a medical examination was performed. As these dogs were not used to being handled at all, the clinical exam could only be conducted after the dogs were fully asleep.  The operating room was equipped with two plastic camping tables that had been extended with additional wood to get a suitable working height. Each sedated dog was positioned on the table and supported on either side by two foam rubber blocks, carved from a foam mattress found in the bar.

One student was responsible for the anesthesia of the dog, while two others performed the operation. Surgical instruments and other utensils were donated by Kruuse A/S and Johnson & Johnson. Two surgeries – either castrations of male dogs or spays of female dogs –  were performed simultaneously in the room. Although the castration procedure is considered relatively simple, students were faced with challenges that had not been seen before. Many of the male dogs had thick scars and adhesions from bite wounds in the scrotum, unforeseen complications that the students had to overcome to achieve a successful procedure.

At the end of each operation, an “ear-notch” was made so that the dog could be subsequently identified.  Blood, fecal samples and swabs of mucous membranes were also collected. Ultimately, collars were placed on each dog, which were then put into a separate room until the sedation wore off. Each dog had received intravenous pain medication at the time of the sedation.

Within the five days of the clinic the team was able to castrate or spay 31 dogs. They would have been able to perform more procedures if it had been easier to get hold of the dogs. A revised plan for obtaining the dogs will  be implemented for the next clinic. Furthermore, it is planned to add one extra day, in which the students will go to individual homesteads and do simple surgeries in the field.

800 domestic dogs vaccinated

While activities took place in the clinic, two students accompanied Dr. Inderjiit (VetAid) in his truck to go to homesteads to vaccinate dogs against rabies and canine distemper. In total, 108 dogs were vaccinated over the course of the week. Over time, the goal is to vaccinate 75% of the estimated dog population of 2,000 in the Mara North Conservancy on an ongoing basis to cease the presence of rabies and distemper in the population. Since the beginning of the project 10 months ago, the MNC Dog project has successfully vaccinated approximately 800 dogs in the area. Studies have demonstrated that achieving 75% coverage should provide “herd immunity” that should limit the spread of these fatal diseases to other dogs and wildlife in the area (and rabies also to humans).

A fantastic learning experience for all

The days were long in the clinic, and more than once the surgeries were being performed by the light of head lamps and smartphones in order to adequately see the surgical fields. Some of the comments that the students used to describe the week-long experience were, “magic”, “much more significant than just surgery”, “teamwork”, “created something together”, and “did something that was more important than just my own development”. Dr. Turasha said on the final day, “Normally I am not a lazy person, but I was sitting on that bar stool just watching, because I was so impressed with the efficiency and competency of the young women [the students]. If I had had this kind of experience when I was a veterinary student, my life would have been completely different. So, Amos, Simel, and Matthew [the Kenyan interns], I hope you realize how unique and special this experience is and use this opportunity to continue to learn and grow as you have done this week!” Indeed, every member of the team, regardless of nationality or education, had an important and indispensable role. And everybody learnt a lot from the experience.

The Masai community lining up for next workshop

The Project Leader and KBCT strongly believe that the clinic was a great success.  It would have been even better had it been possible to castrate or spay additional dogs. However, as mentioned, driving times to obtain and bring the patients to the clinic was extremely time-consuming. A new system will be put in place for future clinics. But in fact, one of the most important outcomes is that on the last day there were dog owners from Mararienta and surrounding area who came to the clinic and asked us to spay or castrate their dogs. There are now over 60 dogs on the waiting list for the next clinic.  Local inhabitants entrust the future care of their dogs to the team, which is very positive impact of the project in a very short time period.

The Dog Project as a model for other communities

The MNC Dog Project of KBCT has the potential to become a model for other communities and conservancies within Kenya where a holistic balance between local populations and their livestock, wildlife, and the natural ecosystem is the ultimate goal.  

Participating veterinarians (in alphabetical order):

  • Dr. Stephen DeVincent, Chair, Karen Blixen Camp Trust
  • Dr. Therese Hård, Borås Djurpark (Sweden)
  • Dr. Topirian Kerempe, Kenya Wildlife Service
  • Dr. Rikke Langebæk, Assoc. Professor, Copenhagen University, Project Leader
  • Dr. James Leyian Nayetuni
  • Dr. Esther Simash, Nairobi University
  • Dr. Gabriel Turasha, VetAid Kenya

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