Cat Tracker: Citizen Science And Cats In Australia
Citizen science is one of the most exciting and potentially groundbreaking new avenues in research with animals. Here at Faunalytics, we’ve covered how it may apply apply to bats, dolphins, tropical animals, and dogs. Engaging the general public in research projects is a great way to gather data that would otherwise take many, many field researchers. In this project, scientists in Australia wanted to track outdoor cats. They also wanted to evaluate people’s relationships with their cats more broadly.
The project had two distinct phases. First, citizen scientists completed a questionnaire. This was about their companion cats. It was also about how people manage their cats’ indoor and outdoor movement, as well as their attachment to their cats. People who completed the questionnaire could nominate themselves and their cats to be involved in the cat-tracking phase of the project. This phase used GPS devices to track the movement of their cats. The researchers wanted to get a sense of the size of these cats’ home ranges and of any differences in night and day activities. They also wanted to find out whether the cats’ characteristics— or the way their human companions “managed” them—related somehow to their home ranges.
The project resulted in more than 3,000 completed surveys and more than 4,000 cats. And the tracking phase gathered data on more than 400 cats. They found that most people obtained their cats from shelters. And most of the outdoor cats caught prey. Also, 34% of respondents said that their cats’ hunting behavior was not a problem. But 28% said it was a problem, while 26% said their cats did not hunt. In a positive bit of reporting, nearly all the human guardians reported that their cats were fixed. Meanwhile, the tracking data revealed that the cats’ home ranges varied from 0.07 to 31.13 hectares (0.17 to 77 acres). The median was 1.04 hectares (or 2.57 acres).
For companion animal advocates, the study is well worth checking out in its entirety. Though the results are specific to Australia, the methods used are fascinating and could be replicated in the U.S. The study could perhaps be carried out at an even greater scale.