Where do house cats go all day? GPS maps reveal their secret lives

cat map image
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About a year ago, we reported on new KittyCam technology that uncovered just how much wildlife our house cats kill. Turns out they're murderous little buggers. It was revealing to find out that 30% of outdoor cats capture and kill prey, with an average of 2.1 kills a week -- and that owners see less than one-quarter of the kills their cats make. It was eye-opening to see just how deadly house cats are to wildlife and what kinds of problems that may cause. But would knowing where cats go and how they move also be enlightening? One team of scientists thinks, Absolutely!

Alan Wilson, a professor specializing in animal movement at the Structure & Motion Laboratory at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), studies how animals move and, importantly, why. Though tracking wild animals is a common focus, Wilson says that no one has ever really applied the technology to house cats.

"In fact, we know less about some aspects of their behaviour than we do about many wild cats. So the Horizon programme and the study in our chosen village - Shamley Green in Surrey - was a fantastic opportunity to find out some of this missing information," Wilson writes in a recent BBC article.

So, he and his team fitted 50 house cats living in the village with GPS collars. They watched the cats' movements, and then visualized the data. And what a new visual it provided.

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"The project was fascinating for us as we were able to learn so much about cats and their human interactions. Often our findings would contradict what owners believed their cats were getting up to," writes Wilson.

The team found that the house cats had fairly small ranges, and few left the village to venture into the countryside. Why? "One theory is that their roaming is dictated by the hunt for food - something more easily done in the village. For example, we saw cats going into houses other than their own," says Wilson.

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With information like this, we may be able to learn more about cats' patterns of movement and, importantly, how local wildlife can be protected from the clutches of roaming house cats. Cats are, after all, a number one enemy of birds.

Take a closer look at the results of the study and more maps over on BBC.

Tags: Animals | Cats