Citizen Science project reveals the secret lives
of cats

Snowy the cat participating in the Cat Tracker Project. SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

The secret lives of South Australia’s cats are about to be exposed as UniSA’s new Cat Tracker Project is rolled out across the State, with around 500 domestic cats having their movements tracked through GPS.

The project is being led by Dr Philip Roetman from the Discovery Circle, UniSA’s Citizen Science initiative, and has prompted huge interest from hundreds of cat owners with further community involvement from local councils and schools.

GPS trackingCat-owning participants are being sent easy-to-use GPS tracking devices which record where their cat travels over the course of a week. Initial results from the first cats tracked have been illustrated on maps which pinpoint the travel patterns of cats as they zigzag their way around their local neighbourhoods.

Participants are also being provided with questionnaires to respond to, which helps them understand more about the personality of their cats and the places they venture to.

Dr Roetman says as well as satisfying the curiosity of cat owners, the research is aimed at understanding the movement of domestic cats.

“Research in the past has focused on feral cats, with only small samples related to domestic cats. We wanted to get a big sample and Citizen Science is an ideal project for that,” Dr Roetman says.

“People are interested in where their cats travel to but it’s only really been in the past 10 years that technology has become available to track pets this way, and the results we have had back so far have indicated some really interesting patterns and diverse journeys".

Snowy the cat.Cat tracker participant Victoria Fielding was surprised to see just how far her own pet, Snowy, travelled.

“When I agreed to track Snowy, I warned the researchers that she would be a very inactive cat as I was sure the extent of her roaming was confined to our garden,” Fielding says.

“I was shocked to see the results of the tracking which showed Snowy was regularly leaving our house and visiting the school across the road and other houses around us. She doesn’t go very far, no more than about half a hectare, but it’s still fascinating to find out that she’s been leaving and coming back without us noticing.

“I am considering shutting her in the house at night as I don’t like the idea of her crossing the road in the dark – she could be hit by a car.”

Pam WhetnallPam Whetnall (pictured right), a project officer at the Dog and Cat Management Board, says Cat Tracker is an ideal way to raise community awareness of responsible pet ownership.

“Citizen Science has really proven itself as a way to engage people and we want people to think about how to be a responsible cat owner,” Whetnall says.

“There is risk in letting domestic cats roam free outdoors – firstly regarding the safety of the cat. Cats that venture out a lot run a greater risk of getting into fights, getting diseases or getting hit by a car.

“Another issue is that without being de-sexed, cats that roam outdoors will have more opportunity to breed. That can have impact on the cat population and presents a problem with large numbers of stray and unwanted cats being put into shelters.”

For more information on the Cat Tracker Project, go to www.discoverycircle.org.au.

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