Among crowd-sourced mapping projects, Cat Tracker is something of an innovation: rather than map a human environment, it is dedicated to mapping the motions of specific outdoor cats–their individual, day-by-day itineraries–rather than create something like a comprehensive map of a region, such as the HOT (Humanitarian Open Street Map Team) mapping of West Africa to track cases of Ebola. But the mechanics of mapping are strikingly similar, if perhaps not destined for a larger audience. While the HOT team uses the Bing imagery to trace a set of shape-files on different quadrants of Liberia or Sierra Leone, high-accuracy GPS sensors attached to the harnesses of individual cats provide the overlay for maps of cities to which they are resident, so one can imagine the regular radius of their strolls.
User experience designer Alex Lee took the time to track his own cat’s motion by an attachable GPS sensor, tracing his motion around a London neighborhood over a few days to track her explorations around his home.
Where Kitty might go might be quite restricted, and be ompholocentrically concentrated about where she can count on being fed. Researchers had earlier argued in 2011 that the meanderings of domestic cats are far more spatially restricted or circumspect than the zones of feral cats, one of whom roamed over 1,350 acres in rural areas–the domesticated cat only roamed in the area designated yellow, or usually less than two acres:
The issues of the rise of feral cats, and the danger of zoonotic transmission of protozoal diseases like toxoplasmosis is a serious issue that is only increased by the considerable breadth of their geographic wanderings.
The availability of sensor-laden harnesses to fit domestic cats with accurate GPS sensors has most rapidly expanded, however, and provoked a parsing of feline itineraries that might strike some as just TMI–although they carry the promise to provide a better sense of how cats interact with their urban environments, and engagement with urban wildlife. While the initial tracking of cats might map as something like noise–
an image of itineraries over several days might distinguish paths or even register that one time that the cat’s owners were out of town, and their pet made an itinerary to their old house in the hope of finding food when it could not locate them otherwise, traveling unerringly for almost a full mile.
Creating a more complicated overlay distinguishing different days allows one to trace a clear record of the cat’s relation to its environment–and the potential incursions cats make into the wooded areas around towns such as Raleigh, NC, where Cat Tracker has posted feline itineraries mapped with the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and an online database dedicated to tracking animal movement, Movebank.
Tallulah K seems to have been attracted by a variety of surrounding rural prey or targets, but avoided most major roads:
Sometimes cat travels seem to record instances driven by car, as a record of feline meanderings over multiple days shown below. (It is unlikely, if possible, that cat space and human space were so completely congruent.)
Similar results of GPS tracking, perhaps especially entertaining to cat-owners who let their felines out of doors and wonder about their whereabouts, might provide a composite map of cats from different houses in a single neighborhood, in an attempt to find out what cat-roaming was about, or if it followed any particular logic at all–or what their relations might be called one another’s routes.
The maps tracked by the Royal Veterinary College offer a basis to answer questions of how cat space maps onto human space, as much as to merely document feline itineraries.
Mapping cats in Surrey may seem like a bizarre surveillance of the domesticated:
Despite the sense that the signs tracking cats have limited legibility, do they signify a premonition of things to come? On the one hand, this seems an extension of our own expectations for tracking and searching geographic locations. Mapping seems to have its own logic here, providing the very terms by which we can undertake the variety of projects that technology allows. Perhaps we’re experimentally using our technologies on our allegedly domesticated animals, as we affix ankle-bracelets with GPS trackers onto sex offenders, and map their residence and whereabouts, at the same as we get used to being tracked ourselves.