22 October 2011

C.S.I.: Dog Dump

‘Globally endangered Egyptian vulture!’ shouted Çağan, slamming on the brakes. Glancing skyward, I caught a glimpse of something brown flapping away. The body of the Egyptian vulture is brown and off-white, but its face is bright yellow. ‘They get that colour from eating shit, which is full of yellow carotenoid pigments,’ Çağan explained. In males, the bright-yellow face is an indicator of fitness and virility, signaling a capacity to eat enormous quantities of shit without getting sick.

On behalf of the Egyptian vulture, as well as the region’s other vulture species Çağan had recently opened a ‘vulture restaurant’...which in its pilot phase had served mostly dead dog. Emrah, Çağan’s science coordinator, was charged with retrieving dog carcasses from the city dumps and depositing them in random locations around Aras, to see how the vultures reacted. The vultures reacted well. You bring the dead dog, and the vultures take care of the rest. The one problem was that a lot of dogs in the dumps had been poisoned as part of a stray-dog reduction program.

...Thus began a phase of Emrah’s life that might have been called “C.S.I.: Dog Dump”: did this dog die of natural causes, or was it poisoned? He started out bribing the staff at the dumps, a pack of cigarettes for every clean carcass. It was a good system, although Emrah inevitably began asking himself certain questions. Was it for this that he had completed his master’s in biology? Further, the workers at the dump clearly thought he was some kind of pervert. One of them once remarked that Emrah might not find that day’s dog suitable: “The thing is, this one is male.”
-- from Natural Histories: A journey in the shadow of Ararat by Elif Batuman

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