Cat Tracking in Thailand

Cat Tracking in Thailand

During the summer of 2016, I travelled to Khon Kaen, Thailand to research endemic liver fluke infections and how domestic cats play a role in the disease transmission. During my stay, I was mentored by professors in the Department of Tropical Disease Research in Khon Kaen University and was given opportunities to participate in various field trips and activities. Overall, I had a really good time there, always feeling welcomed by the warmth of the Thai people and climate.

Making connections

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Makoto poses with the department chairs at Khon Kaen University Department of Veterinary Medicine.

I was connected with professors at Khon Kaen University through Dr. Jeffrey Mariner at Cummings School. I knew I wanted to go to Thailand for the summer, and was lucky that Dr. Mariner knew someone who does research on endemic liver fluke. After discussing what I could do in Thailand with Dr. Sirikachorn at Khon Kaen over email, I’ve decided to track domestic cats using GPS loggers to investigate where they go and how that might play a role in liver fluke transmission to people.

Preparing for the trip was hard work. I read numerous research papers about both liver fluke, and how to collect and analyze GPS data in general. Although it wasn’t easy, I tried to develop a comprehensive understanding of what is known of flukes, in order to identify areas in to which I could contribute research. Finally, I purchased GPS loggers, packed a bag, and was ready to travel.

Khon Kaen time

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A cat with a GPS logger.

Things started slowly. Thai culture is, in my experience, very laid back.  People do not like to be rushed, and thus, it took two weeks before we were actually in the local villages tagging cats. During those first few weeks, I got a chance to meet and hang out with people in the department, and explore the city of Khon Kaen.

Once we actually started working on the research, the time seemed to pass by faster. Our typical research day went as follows: we left the university at around 8am and drove for 30-40 minute to arrive at the village of interest. There we visited the houses of cat owners to retrieve GPS loggers that were deployed couple days ago, and collect feces of the cats to see if they’re infected with liver fluke or not. Then we went off to the next village and tagged the cats there with the GPS loggers. We repeated this for seven villages total.

Highlights

I would say that transit time between university and various villages was one of my favorite moments. This was the time I learned some Thai, taught some English and Japanese, joked around with random topics of the day, and generally had a great time with the research team. Although the beginning of the research was somewhat delayed, with the help of our very committed team, we were able to complete what we originally set out to do and I am very happy with the quality of the results we got through my time there.

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Makoto and his partner in front of a temple in Chiang Mai.

Though research was the main focus of my trip to Thailand, I was able to do a lot outside of the research. I used some weekend time to travel to places like Bangkok, Pattaya, and Chiang Mai. Dr. Sirikachorn also invited me to various events hosted by the university including a 10-day One Health workshop, and a week-long veterinary service field trip. I sincerely want to thank everyone I met in Thailand for an unforgettable summer filled with academic training as well as great deal of fun.

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