Saturday, April 5, 2014

Busted! Cats Get Up to More Than You Expect...

Above: Do you know what your kitty is up to right now?
Photo by Karel Jakubec. This public domain work is also posted in the photographer's Wikimedia Commons collection.

If your kitty roams outside the house, chances are you don't really know how your furry friend is spending his or her time. Now, researchers at the University of Georgia (UGA) are teaming up with photography experts at National Geographic to fill this knowledge gap. (Note: the cat pictured above, a Czech tom named Zhofak, was not involved in the research. Owner and photographer Karl Jakubek jokes that the photo portrays an innovative new style of bird-feeder for hawks, eagles, and condors. ;-)

Dr. Sonia Hernandez of UGA, her colleagues at National Geographic, and her students are combining forces to outfit kitties with small cameras that attach to their collars. The first phase of the research, which studied pet kitties, resulted in awesome photos and videos of freely roaming pet cats. Results showed that a whopping 85 percent of the kitties engaged in one or more types of risky behavior, such as crossing streets, fighting, or eating/drinking unknown substances. The researchers hope that actually seeing these images will help cat owners understand the risks their pets face when allowed to roam freely.

The research also documented that while fewer than half of the cats hunted (only 44 percent did), they caught mostly desirable native species like anoles and voles -- not common house mice. The surprise finding was that a small number of the study cats were leading double lives -- they actually entered the home of a second family while supposedly out "roaming!"

Next up for the researchers -- using the kitty-cam technology to study a colony of feral cats on Georgia's barrier islands. Results should be of interest to all cat enthusiasts, so keep an eye out for updates. Here's a poem inspired by the kitty-cam research:

Song of the Kitty-Cam Cat
By Cathryn Chaney © 2014

I wear a brand new kitty-cam;
it rides beneath my chin.
It captures pictures that will show
my owner where I've been.

At last she'll know the labor --
the risks I must allow
to catch her all those lizard treats;
she'll surely eat them now.

Imagine how she'll swell with pride
to see how well I fight.
That possum thinks he's awesome,
but he'll go home bruised tonight.

I hope, though, she'll feel lonely
to see me nap at ease,
tucked tight between the gallons
of our neighbor's anti-freeze.

Because, to be quite honest,
although I'm brave and strong,
I'd rather curl up on her lap,
at home where I belong.

If you want to see some of the striking images the research team recorded, check out these photos and videos. You might also want to bookmark the webpage for the Kitty Cams Project.