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Enroll your outdoor cat in a GPS cat-tracking project

Help researchers uncover the secret life of felines by signing your cat up for Cat Tracker, an international project that follows the furballs on their outdoor adventures.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
2 min read

Cat Tracker cat map
Cat Tracker participant Tiger laid out these tracks. Screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

Your outdoor cat lives a life of mystery. Once it disappears from your yard, it may roam far and wide, or it may just chill out in the neighbor's yard. Aren't you curious? You could hire a pet detective to trail your fur-buddy, or you could recruit your kitty for Cat Tracker, a project that follows in feline footsteps around the world.

Cat Tracker is open to cat owners who are cool with making a DIY GPS harness, setting the cat loose for nine days, and then uploading the data to the project runners. As a result, you get to see where your kitty roamed during that time and the researchers learn more about the movement patterns of cats. The project is run by Your Wild Life, a team of biologists and citizen-scientists, in collaboration with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science and animal movement database organization Movebank.

Getting signed up is pretty simple. You register yourself and answer an extensive questionnaire about your cat, including its age, weight, and breed, and whether you have other pets. Cat Tracker also asks you to speculate on where you think your cat goes and how far you think it walks. Cat owners in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina can check into borrowing a GPS unit and harness directly from the Cat Tracker team.

Cat Tracker started as a US project, but has now expanded to include cats in Australia and New Zealand. Data collected from New Zealand should be particularly interesting since cats are at the top of the land-based wildlife food chain there.

Even if you don't have an eligible cat (my CNET test cats are all indoor-dwellers), you can still access the tracking maps to see where the participants are wandering off to. Many of the maps looks like messy spider webs. The cats sometimes take off on unusual expeditions. Fluffy black-and-white kitty Nola, for example, appears to hang mostly close to home, but one big adventure took the fluffball far across the neighborhood on a track that stands out from the rest.

Cat Tracker could help lift the veil off of quite a few cat mysteries, such as the impact of outdoor felines on local wildlife and how different climates and environments impact range. Data from the questionnaires can be correlated to see if fat cats stay closer to home, or if multiple cats from the same household share roaming patterns. The secret lives of outdoor cats may not be quite so secret for long.

Cat Tracker test subjects
Some of the Cat Tracker participants. Screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

(Via National Geographic)