Strapping video cameras to 16 outdoor domestic cats does not reveal anything new

A research study co-authored by Samantha Watson, an animal behaviourist at Manchester Metropolitan University in the United Kingdom, was intended to reveal some new insights into domestic cat behaviour when they are outside but from me it doesn’t. They strapped video cameras to 16 cats and followed them for up to 4 years as they wandered around neighbourhoods. The research project has been published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science late in May 2019.

Videos from camera strapped to outdoor wandering domestic cats under a research project.
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Maren Huck was part of the team and she was interviewed by David Grimm of the website sciencemag.org.

Researchers strapped video cameras on 16 cats and let them do their thing. Here’s what they found

When asked whether the videos had revealed any surprises, her response was, in general terms, that domestic cats become super alert when they’re outside. This is in contrast to the perception that they are very lazy when they’re indoors with their human caretakers.

She said that they scanned their surroundings sometimes for half an hour or more and that although cats are territorial they did not always fight with other cats that they encountered on their travels.

She said that sometimes the cats simply met and sat near to each other, a couple of metres away, and accepted each other for up to half an hour. Sometimes they would greet and touch noses.

The video on this page provides us with some of the footage taken from the video cameras attached to these cats. Like I said at the beginning, I don’t think that the video provides us with any revealing or novel insights into outdoor cat behaviour. They wander around, looking at the environment a lot, defecate, sit and wait for a long time, snooze sometimes, chatter at prey, bump into other cats who they might be fairly friendly with or have a stand-off with. That’s about it. They might hunt a little bit if they are so inclined but this depends upon how predisposed individual cats are to hunting. Not all domestic cats want to hunt or indeed are that good at it.

I don’t think research of this nature necessarily provides us with insights. It depends, no doubt, on the knowledge of the cat owner. It occurs to me that scientists who do this sort of cat research are not necessarily cat owners. They might, therefore find the videos revealing but to others like myself, they are not. What do you think?

The interesting bit was how the cats tolerated the cameras or not

For me, one of the more interesting aspects of this research project was the reaction of the cats to wearing video cameras. The researchers started off with 21 cats but only 16 tolerated cameras. The ones who did not tolerate the cameras started to race around or try to scratch them off. On one occasion a mother cat started to hit her son who was wearing a camera! She obviously perceived her offspring as an alien cat as soon the camera was attached to him. They used neither mother nor son as expected.

It is interesting and surprising that the camera changed the way a male cat looked to the extent that his mother no longer recognised him. This is similar to siblings failing to recognise each other if they lose their body odour. Cats seem to have a very black-and-white approach to visual and olfactory recognition. They don’t seem to exercise discretion and use other signals.

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