‘Kitty Cams’ study cat behavior

BY TAYLOR WEST

Researchers at the University recently paired up with the National Geographic Society to do a study on free roaming cats, known as Kitty Cams.

The project was intended to answer questions about how cats behave in natural environments without disrupting their behavior.

According to Kittycams.uga.edu, the kitty cams were used to study both cats’ effects as predators on the environment and to try and analyze common risks faced by owned outdoor cats.

Kerrie Anne Lloyd, a recent graduate of the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources at the University, studied the effects of domestic cats on wildlife. She did work on the project as a part of her dissertation, working with Sonia Hernandez, a leader on the project and an assistant professor in the department.

“We started working with National Geographic, they made the cameras called Crittercams back in 2009, raised the money in 2010 and got the cameras [on the cats later that year],” She said. “We have a little bit of footage [from most of the cats] that participated over the course of a year.”

There were 60 participating cats, each wearing a collar mounted with a Crittercam, going outdoors for seven to 10 days, according toKittycams.uga.edu. The cats were spaced out over a number of habitats in the Athens area and through every season.

According to the website, the Crittercams are lightweight and waterproof and are equipped with LED lights to gather night footage. National Geographic has also used them to film the behavior of other animals, like sea turtles.

Lloyd said of the 2,000 hours of footage, only about 39 hours were useable, and usable footage was only obtained from 55 of the 60 cats. All statistics are based on those 55.

“Everything on the website came out of my dissertation results. It was a lot of work but it came down to not a lot in the way of numbers,” she said. “We were looking at risk behaviors. Lots of footage, lots of work, but it came down to smaller amounts of numbers.”

Lloyd said there are approximately 9 million owned cats in this country, about half of which are outdoor cats.  There are even more strays.  Due to numbers, cats are slightly controversial.

Llyod said because cats are not native to the United States, some people feel they should be heavily controlled to preserve wildlife, but many people don’t want to be told what to do with their cats.

“Cats having an impact on wildlife is a concern,” Llyod said.

Monitoring that impact was part of the project.

Lloyd said only 44 percent of the 55 cats demonstrated hunting behavior, and that such behavior was more prevalent in the warmer months, 85 percent according to the website, because cats are opportunistic predators.

As far as risks roaming cats face, the biggest was observed as crossing the street, based on website statistics.  Other risks included encountering strange cats, exploring drain systems and eating and drinking away from home.

Increased time outside augmented the risks, and male cats were found to be more likely to engage in risky behavior.

Students like Jamilla Johnson, a sophomore marketing major from Cobb County, feel that the project is an effective way to observe cats, but the time spent on the project might not be worth it.

“[It is a good idea] because I think it’s harmless. You see them in their natural element doing what they normally do, not knowing they are being watched as opposed to putting them in an environment, so I think it’s a good idea,” she said.  “Actually, I don’t think its worth a lot of time and it shouldn’t be worth a lot of money either.”

Brittney Winbush, a sophomore public relations major from Atlanta, agreed it is an effective way of studying behavior but said she feels the project could have enough value to be worth time and money.

“I guess I would say it depends. If after a few tests are run, if the problem is really big or if it is having an immediate large effect, then yeah, it is something they should spend money on,” she said.

Lloyd said she is neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with the results, though she felt a larger sample size would have been beneficial.

“We always have bigger expectations in science, so there will always be some things that go wrong.  I can’t say I was satisfied or dissatisfied because it is exploratory research,” she said. “We actually envisioned a much larger sample size of 100 cats, but there were some limitations.”

Lloyd said she feels the project yielded a lot of information about cats in the Athens area, but more work needs to be done.

“People have been trying to extrapolate from our work here in Athens,” she said.  “Repeating the study in different geographic areas would be interesting.”

She said she is pleased with her involvement in the Kitty Cams project.

“Overall, cats are fascinating and it was fun to participate in,” she said.