Secret Life Of Cats – Emotive Maps

In 2013 research was carried out by BBC2’s Horizon into the secret life of cats, aided by the royal veterinary college, Lincoln University and also the University of Bristol. This documentary saw 50+ cats in the village of Shamley Green, Surrey fitted with both GPS tracking devices and specially designed Cat-Cams. They were all then watched over a period of 24 hours at several different intervals to ensure that any data collected was impartial and not purely circumstantial. This was the largest ever research project undertaken into understanding the behaviour of the domestic cat and it was with the help of Alan Wilson, a professor specialising in animal movement that this research was possible. Throughout his career Wilson has tracked every animal from pigeons to big cats, so he was the best to address on fitting the domestic creatures with these new devices. Due to the GPS needing a lot of power to function, the tags were also fitted with an activity trigger so the camera was only activated when the pets were in motion. This worked well for the research team as it meant any uninteresting data such as the cats taking naps or periods when they weren’t motionless were immediately discarded. Fitting the activity trigger was an essential part to the device as due to the smaller size of the domestic cats, the collared tags had to be in line with their bodies so as not to prohibit any fluidity in movement.

The data collected was then discussed in full towards the end of the project with the cats respective owners so that a full understanding of the behaviour could be interpreted.

The territories of the cats were mapped using the GPS devices, and the researchers found that the cats interestingly timeshare their surrounding village. This results in the avoidances of confrontation as they each go out at separate times so as not to overlap on their patrols. The results also showed that not all the cats went into the neighbouring countryside to hunt. The felines on the outskirts of the town were more likely to do so, but those towards the centre were often found sneaking into the houses of other cats to steal food.

In a similar way to Nolds research into how the public emotively respond to a given town or city, it is in the same respect that these researchers want to know what happens during the secretive lives of cats. Both have used the GPS system in a similar way to track the progress of their subject matter. The GPS worked with the Cats to better show the owners the size of the territory that the cats take as individuals. This evidence was then presented on a map which took the form of an aerial photograph of Shamley Green, the different cats and their respective territories were then marked a variety of colours to better distinguish between them and for legibility options. On the website the user can then go through this interactive system, choosing a specific cat to view their territory, understand their character habits and watch videos taken over the course of the programme. I feel that using an ariel view of Shamley Greene was a poor choice in terms of design as it is an unattractive and unappealing view of the town, and the different territories of the cats which are marked in different colours regarding the individual pet seem childish and naiive.


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