Tracking cats

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By Mary McConville

“Pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been?” “I’ve been to London to see the Queen.”

Here in Australia we are following the American example, as usual, in setting up an experiment to track where people’s cats are wandering. It is being organised by the University of South Australia and led by Dr Philip Roetman from the Discovery Circle, which is part of the University’s Citizen Science initiative hoping to rope in ordinary cat owners and young students.

This project is only open to South Australian residents who are over the age of 16. Before they begin they need to fill in a survey which will include questions on their cat’s personality as there are theories that a cat’s personality affects their range. This survey is available on-line, but those who cannot access the internet can contact the Discovery Circle by email or phone and receive paper forms to fill in and return.

If after filling out the survey the cat owner is found suitable, they will be sent an easily attachable GPS device for their cat. At the end of the survey the owners will be sent a report based on the results.

As well as collaborating with cat owners, the Discovery Circle is co-operating with the educational authorities to prepare suitable material that fits in with the official school curriculum so that the young students can learn all about cats. The Discovery Circle have fact sheets explaining their place in the animal kingdom, their biology and the known historical points where cats and humans have met. Many people know that the ancient Egyptians revered cats. They had a rather beautiful cat goddess called Basht.

It is probable that the Australian result will differ from that discovered in North Carolina. The Americans found that urban cats didn’t travel far and that they were likely to stick to the built environment. Australia is known to have a problem with feral cats so they are likely to be wider ranging and wilder in behaviour than the American moggies. Feral cats are so common in Australia that they have been incorporated into the Aboriginal Dreaming.

Cat owners will probably be pleased to see the results of this project. Dr Carla Litchfield, a project collaborator and an expert on animal behaviour said that the research would help people to understand their pets. She said “…understanding a cat’s personality can help to care for it.” All those fond of their felines would be glad to know that.

Anyone who would like to find out more about this particular project, or who would like to register their cats to take part can go to www.discoverycircle.org.au.

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