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Crazy Cat Lady Research

Posted: February 27, 2017

Cats and wildlife don’t mix but research makes for strange bedfellows.

Meet Jeannine.  Jeannine is a crazy cat lady.  Jeannine owns 17 cats and lets them frolic about inside and outside.  [NOTE: the REAL Jeannine may be crazy; is definitely a lady; and does have an affinity for cats.  However, she loves wildlife; therefore, her undisclosed number of cats stay safely indoors.  But for the sake of this post, she agreed to play along as the crazy cat lady.] 

When she opens the door and those non-native predators are released into the world, where do they go?  

Good question!  And where there’s a good question, there’s usually someone willing to answer it and make a little money while they’re at it.  

Research on free-roaming and feral cats and their effects on wildlife have been going on for years.  But Crazy Cat Lady Jeannine doesn’t care about that.  She just wants to know where Mr. Buttons hangs out when he's not napping by the window.Mr. Buttons

CatNip Technologies to the rescue!  CatNip Technologies is dedicated to tracking your furry friends.  They developed a small, lightweight GPS CatLogger. All this for the low price of $30.  Definitely within Jeannine’s price range.  

So what does following Mr. Buttons have to do with deer?  If you haven’t figured it out yet, deer are connected to everything…eventually.  They have 6 degrees or less of separation from EVERY topic or issue.

GPS collars used in wildlife studies must be accurate, waterproof, and long lasting.  They need to stand up to every season and whatever a critter can throw at it.  Combining all these traits into a collar can be quite expensive (GPS collars used for the Deer Forest Study set us back ~$2,500 each – way out of Jeannine’s budget.  And have you seen the size of them? Poor Mr. Buttons could never carry that around).  

Could this $30 CatLogger used by crazy cat ladies substitute?  Researchers are always looking to stretch their budgets so it wasn’t long before CatLogger devices were being tested on everything from Elephants to pigeons.  And The Deer-Forest Study is no exception. 

Why not switch out all expensive GPS collars with these economical (read cheap) CatLoggers?  Remember that thing about wildlife GPS collars needing to be accurate and long lasting.  Tracking a cat around a neighborhood is one thing, but tracking a deer under heavy forest canopy is another. Heavy forest cover can disrupt how the device connects to satellites and result in an incorrect position or no position at all.  While this is a huge problem, it really doesn’t matter if the device doesn’t last more than a day or two to begin with. 

CatNip Technologies is not only a crazy cat lady’s best friend, but a researcher’s as well.  They developed a similar unit meant specifically for scientific studies. These units are better equipped to handle the wear and tear of being on various wild critters with only a slightly higher price tag ($45). 

But can these units really take accurate positions and last long enough?

Cue the deer! Fawn collars

Actually cue the fawns….they aren’t much bigger than a cat right?  Our fawn collars do not currently collect GPS locations so we decided to attach these small units to some of our collars and put them to the test.  Here is a picture of a fawn collar with the CatLog technology (on the left) and a fawn collar without a GPS attachment (on the right). 

Our highest priority is tracking fawns with mothers that have a high-powered, fancy-schmancy GPS collar.  By contrasting the positions from these two GPS devices on individuals that we know spend time together will help identify accuracy. 

So how did the CatLoggers perform? Not bad.

Check out the movie below.  Mom’s locations (blue dots taken with fancy-schmancy GPS tracker) and the fawn’s positions (pink dots taken with cheap CatLogger GPS unit). The CatLogger took positions for the first two weeks of life. [Watch how mom took a road trip leaving her fawn alone on May 29!]

This technology faces a lot of problems before it will be a truly viable option for wildlife studies – battery life is still an issue and the only way to get the locations is to physically retrieve the logger.  

But we will continue testing these units and providing feedback to the companies that produce them. Who knew that a crazy cat lady would help track a deer?

-Tess Gingery and Jeannine Fleegle (aka Crazy Cat Lady)

[Tess Gingery is working on her M.S. degree
in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences studying
fawn survival and causes of mortality]

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