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From Botswanan big cats to Surrey house cats

Issue date:
14 June 2013
Type:
Press release 
Engineering, ICT

Professor Wilson with Toby

Scientists who designed GPS tracking collars to study hunting cheetahs in Botswana have miniaturised them to track 50 domestic cats in a Surrey village for a BBC programme. The BBC also deployed cat-cams which were turned on by the collar’s activity sensor when the cat was moving. ‘The Secret Life of The Cat’ is broadcast on BBC Two Horizon on Thursday June 13th 2013 at 21:00.

In a first study of its kind, the wanderings of our feline friends were recorded, revealing how far they roamed and what they got up to once they leave their owners behind. The team were concerned that cats were known to pop through the cat-flaps of neighbouring houses to steal food so they used the GPS to tell when the cats were indoors and switched off the cat-cams.

Professor Alan Wilson, from the Royal Veterinary College, University of London and his team are currently studying the cheetah in research funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), and Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

cat sensor

Cat sensor

Their innovative tracking collars, which use GPS and motion sensors, have recorded hunting cheetahs at a top speed of 58mph as well as the first data on the animal’s acceleration and manoeuvres. The results are published in the journal, ‘Nature’ on Thursday June 13th 2013.

Professor Wilson said: “If we understand an animal’s speed and manoeuvrability we will be able to see how managing habitats will have an impact on predators and hunting.”

Back in the UK the team used their expertise to design the technology for the study on domestic cats for BBC Two’s Horizon programme. They designed the protocol, programmed the collars, and analysed the data of the domestic puss.

Professor Wilson said; “Our motivation for getting involved in the programme is to showcase scientific research methods to the public and demonstrate science is cool. It’s an excellent large-scale deployment opportunity for our tracking collars and the analysis tools used for our studies on wild animals. Ironically we knew more about cheetahs than domestic cats, until this study.”

running cheetah and gps

Cheetah with tracker

Notes to editors

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK’s main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. EPSRC invests around £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone’s health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.

About BBSRC

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by Government, and with an annual budget of around £500M (2012-2013), we support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact.

For more information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes.

Research Reference: Locomotion dynamics of hunting in wild cheetahs; A M Wilson, J. C. Lowe, K. Roskilly, P. E. Hudson, K. A. Golabek & J. W. McNutt (doi:10.1038/nature12295) is published in the journal Nature.

For images contact:

EPSRC Press Office or telephone +44 (0) 1793 444 404.

For interviews contact:
Alan Wilson
Professor of Locomotor Biomechanics
Structure and Motion Laboratory
The Royal Veterinary College
University of London
Tel: +44 (0) 1707 666 259

or Rebecca Griffiths
Communications Management
Tel: +44 (0) 1727 733885
Mobile: +44 (0) 7584 392 347

Reference: PN 40-13