BBC Discovers Where House Cats Go When They’re Out

The British broadcaster has collaborated with veterinary researchers to track the behavior of domestic cats in Surrey, UK.

A team of researchers from BBC Two’s Horizon program and the Royal Veterinary College used technology typically used to track big cats in the wild to find out more about animals closer to home: domestic cats.

The technology, which is comprised of high-accuracy GPS and electronic sensors in combination with fixed cameras and “cat cams,” allows researchers to detect when the animals are active and how far they roam. Insight into behaviors such as hunting and interactions with other animals and humans can also be gleaned from the sensors and cameras.

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This project is the first to put this type of technology to use tracking domestic animals’ activities. In order to use the typically heavy device on the smaller cats, the team used a smaller GPS battery and was able to conserve battery power by triggering GPS tracking only when activity sensors indicated that the animal was awake.

The April 2013 study, which was conducted in Shamley Green, a small village in Surrey, UK, yielded some results that surprised the cats’ owners. The data indicates that the cats do not roam as far as anticipated, but still get into some unexpected things while their owners aren’t around. Some were even entering houses other than their own.

Results of the study were visualized using specifically designed software, which overlaid the cats’ routes on an aerial map of the village, and a documentary was aired on BBC Two (currently only available to stream in the UK).

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Besides providing some interesting insight for these pet owners, the study proves that research tools and technology used in the wild can be put to use in a more local context and still yield valuable (and surprising) results.

BBC: Secret Life of the Cat

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