As soon as cameras became easily portable, scientists have been having a lot of fun with them by strapping them to all kinds of animals such as sheep and sharks to have the opportunity to see their everyday life firsthand. It's pretty much the closest thing to seeing through their eyes.
We've been able to explore the world through a dog's eyes thanks to Nikon and their experiment, the results ended up being pretty adorable. Although, no one has ever tried to do it with cats, probably because they're mysterious and odd.
Maren Huck wants to change that. A study published this month in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, the behavioral ecologist at the University of Derby in the United Kingdom installed a couple of small cameras on 16 cats, this experiment lasted almost 4 years and the cats were given the privilege of roaming their neighborhoods freely.
The study was co-authored by a UK animal behaviorist, Samantha Watson and it was mostly done to measure the accuracy of the technology, the duo managed to make a couple of surprising discoveries.
Huck said in an interview with Science that they faced a lot of challenges while trying to get cats to wear the equipment, he also confirmed that the research will dismiss a lot of common misconceptions about felines.
For purposes of clarity and length, Science has edited this interview.
A: One day in 2014, my cat Treacle brought home a merlin. The falcon was as big as she was, and I wondered whether she had really caught it herself—or if she had just grabbed it after it flew into a window. I wanted to keep a video diary of her exploits, so I bought a small camera on the internet; it’s about the diameter of a golf ball, but flatter and much lighter. It can record for about 2.5 hours, and it clips right onto the collar. And it can record in the infrared, so I could track Treacle at night.
I collected footage for about 6 months. In that time, I noticed that Treacle vocalized less outside than she did in the house, and that the pitch of the vocalizations was different. She only caught one thing that whole time: a woodmouse. I began wondering if I could do this more scientifically, and follow a larger number of cats, to get a better sense of how they behave when no one is watching.
A: A couple of other studies had put cameras on cats, but they tended to only look at one thing: how often cats cross roads, for example, or how many animals they kill. We wanted to look at a range of behaviors. In some other studies, people directly observed cats. But cats behave much differently when a person is around. When I was outside in the garden with Treacle, she would spend a lot of time sleeping or grooming, probably because she felt protected with me there. When I wasn’t around, she mostly hunted and even interacted with other cats. And you can’t follow a cat when it jumps over a fence.
A: We started with 21 cats, but only 16 tolerated the cameras. The others either started racing around or tried to scratch them off. One mother cat was like this, and when we put the camera on her son, she began hitting him. So we didn’t use either cat.
A: Cats are seen as relatively lazy, especially compared to dogs. But we saw that when they were outside, they became superalert. They scanned their surroundings, sometimes for a half-hour or more on end. And even though cats are highly territorial, they didn’t always fight with other cats they encountered. Often, they just sat a couple of meters away from each other for up to a half an hour. They may have been sizing each other up. Sometimes they would engage in a greeting, briefly touching noses.
When they were in their homes, the cats spent a lot of time following their humans around. They liked to be in the same room. A lot of my students were surprised at how attached cats were to people.
A: I hope more people put cameras on cats to understand their behavior. There is also debate over whether cats should be kept indoors all the time. If we find that cats seem more bored or stressed out when kept indoors—for example, by pacing, like some animals do at the zoo—that means we need to think more about enriching their indoor lives, or giving them some outside time.
A: I always acknowledge the animals I work with. I’ve been doing that since my Ph.D. thesis. I do feel thankful because if the cats didn’t oblige us, we couldn’t do the study.
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