Meghan Foote - Sri Lanka

This summer I was fortunate enough to travel to Sri Lanka to work on a research project with Dr. Eranda Rajapaksha, a University of Peradeniya Senior lecturer and veterinarian, as well as an animal behavior specialist. Specifically, we looked at the behavioral response of geriatric cats to Acalypha indica, a plant native to Sri Lanka and known for the unique behavioral response its roots elicit in cats, such as face rubbing and rolling. Working with Dr. Rajapaksha and Dr. Woutrina Smith, my mentor in Davis, we sought to improve the welfare of domestic geriatric cats by adding this plant to a cat toy to increase physical activity levels in these cats and hopefully combat senility.

I spent much of my time in Sri Lanka traveling around the cities of Peradeniya and Colombo to find cats in the correct age range (>7 years old) and then to video record their interactions with the toys. It was an amazing experience getting to meet community members who were excited about the project and willing to share their cats (and homes) with us as we took our videos. Sri Lankan hospitality is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced; never before have I been fed so well and treated so kindly in a stranger’s home! The people that I met and the friends I made challenged me to grow as a person and a lifelong learner, and they still inspire me even upon return. 

I also had the privilege of traveling with another veterinary student, Stephen Harris, and an MPVM student, Dr. Ruwini Rupasinghe, both of whom were working on projects of their own in the same area of Sri Lanka. This was great not only because I made two lifelong friends, but also because I was also able to participate in their projects during my stay. This included collecting fecal samples from elephants that ate at trash sites for Stephen’s project, as well as learning the basics of DNA extraction from Ruwini for her project on feline olfactory genes. Stephen and I were also sent to shadow a private practice veterinarian at a clinic near the city of Kandy, and we were invited to attend the annual Sri Lankan Veterinary Conference in Kandy, where we learned about how the veterinary profession is similar and different in another country.    

Outside of my time spent conducting research, Stephen and I were able to travel around Sri Lanka, seeing incredible landscapes and a vibrant culture unlike any I’ve seen before. One of the most unique and exciting experiences of my time here (and of my life) was the weekend I spent volunteering at the Millennium Elephant Foundation in Kegalle. MEF is an organization dedicated to improving the welfare of captive Asian elephants in Sri Lanka through education and elephant-friendly tourism. Not only did we learn about the basics of elephant care, but also about the human-elephant conflict in Sri Lanka, and what steps were being taken to solve these issues. We were also able to travel to historical sites, such as the colonial town of Galle and the old kingdom of Sigiriya, as well as various religious sites, such as the Dambulla caves and the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, all of which made my experience that much more enriching. 

Throughout the course of my six weeks in this beautiful country I gained experience in laboratory procedures and field work, learned how to study and analyze behavior, and developed an immense appreciation for a new culture and way of life of which I had never experienced before. I am incredibly grateful to my mentors for their support, to the community members who helped with the project, and to the UC Davis Office for Global Programs for making this trip possible!  

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