Do you ever wonder where your cat goes when she is outside? Some cats love to spend time outside, disappearing for hours or days at a time, just to return home when they are hungry. Out of curiosity, a team of researchers from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and North Carolina State University set out on a quest to find out what cats actually do when they leave the house.
The Cat Tracker Project
In the Cat Tracker project, as it is called, researchers track the movement and activity of cats. Rob Dunn, one of the researchers on the team, states that people often view cats through a cultural lens and that we do not often actually view their behavior. The Cat Tracker project is designed to change that. By fitting cats with GPS tracking devices, the researchers plan to monitor and record the behavior of free-roaming cats in various areas around the country.
In addition to just finding out where cats go and what they do, the project also aims to collect data about the impact of cats on the environment and on wildlife. A 2012 study suggested that free-roaming cats kill between 1.4 million and 3.7 million birds on a yearly basis, along with 6.9-20.7 million small animals. Though the results of this study are widely debated in regards to accuracy, this study shows that free-roaming cats and their behavior have consequences that go much further beyond any risk to the cats on their own.
Results of the Cat Tracker Project
The Cat Tracker project is ongoing, but it has already produced some interesting results. In one example, a family cat typically stayed within a few blocks of home, but once made a long trip to pay a visit to the family’s previous home. The family had no idea that the cat ever left the backyard, so these findings were quite surprising.
Another cat traveled a long distance to meet up with another cat, seemingly for no reason at all (maybe they were long-lost friends; we will never know until we decipher meows). The cats had no physical interaction, neither romantic nor aggressive – they just lay in the sun for a little while before going back home. Another observation showed a cat stalking and chasing a lizard.
In the future, researchers hope to add video cameras to the project, which will help them not only to see where cats go when they roam, but why they choose those locations. The Cat Tracker project could teach us much about the social behavior of cats – whether they are drawn to each other for friendship and activity, or whether meet-ups are completely coincidental.
There are a number of factors that come into play concerning a cat’s roaming behavior. The Cat Tracker project aims to identify and test those factors to see how they impact the distance a cat will roam and where it will go. The project will also be used to determine factors that keep cats from roaming, such as nearby coyote populations.