Researchers (and some cat-owners) wanted to know: What do feral and free-roaming house cats do when they’re out of sight? A two-year study offers a first look at the daily lives of these feline paupers and princes, whose territories overlap on the urban, suburban, rural and agricultural edges of many towns.
The study used radio telemetry and a sophisticated activity-tracking device to capture the haunts and habits of dozens of owned and un-owned cats living at the southern edge of Champaign and Urbana, neighboring cities in Central Illinois. Together, the 42 adult cats originally radio-tracked for the study ranged over a territory of 2,544 hectares (6,286 acres). Of the radio transmitters used in the study, 23 had tilt and vibration sensors that tracked the animals’ every move.
“There’s no (other) data set like this for cats,” said Jeff Horn, a former graduate student in the University of Illinois department of natural resources and environmental sciences who conducted the study for his master’s thesis with researchers from his department and the Prairie Research Institute at Illinois. “Without these sensors, it would require a field team of 10 to 12 people to collect that data.”
As expected, in most cases the un-owned cats had larger territories than the pet cats and were more active throughout the year. But the size of some of the feral cats’ home ranges surprised even the researchers.
One of the feral cats, a mixed breed male, had a home range of 547 hectares (1,351 acres), the largest range of those tracked.