Cats' night-time habits revealed in tracking project

The cats can roam up to 3.5km in a night but tend to stay in if it's cold, Berkley Normal Middle School student Evahn ...
Bruce Mercer

The cats can roam up to 3.5km in a night but tend to stay in if it's cold, Berkley Normal Middle School student Evahn Martinsen says. She's pictured with her cat Luca.

Even cats sometimes make late night trips to Burger King.

Evahn Martinsen used to think her three cats - Twinkle, Luca and Zephyr - slept at night until she started tracking them for a science project. Well, not Zephyr, who flat-out refused to cooperate. But the other two allowed the 13-year-old Hamilton student to strap GPS trackers on them to see what they do in the shadows.

Their activities include jaunts of up to 3.5 kilometres, stops at Burger King and tennis courts, and crossing the busy Cambridge Rd.

Once the data from their nocturnal wanderings is put together, the result will be Evahn's project for the Berkley Normal Middle School science fair.

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Weather conditions such as temperature and rain are part of the data, so Evahn can see if it affects how active the cats are. And she's found, like humans, cold keeps them by the fire. She can also see just where they've been and when by bringing up a map with data from the trackers.

"One night, Twinkle travelled three-and-a-half kilometres.

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"And we also found that on the really, really cold nights - when it's, like, minus 4 degrees, minus 3 degrees -  they tend to stay inside.

"And there're patterns where they keep going back to [certain] places."

For example, on July 5, Twinkle's night-time activities included visits to two schools and two crossings of Cambridge Rd.

GPS has also placed her at Burger King on one night-time trip.

 Luca covered 1.2km on June 18 - and all within a 190m radius of the house.

The inspiration for the project came from a conversation with a teacher who told her cats were nocturnal.

"When science fair came around, I was like, oh yeah, I could see what my cats actually do."

An email to the Department of Conservation got her plenty of suggestions, including that she approach Auckland-based Lintek Tracking Solutions for sponsorship.

The company loaned Evahn three Petrek GPS units and a tablet.

"The units twist on to the collar and the signals in the GPS go through to a tablet. And I have the tablet and it can show me a map of where the cats are and it can update every five minutes, or 30 seconds," Evahn  said.

Unfortunately, Zephyr proved uncooperative, but Twinkle and Luca were convinced into the collars.

Lintek co-owner Eric Lin said the company is impressed with Evahn's idea.

"These type of kids are quite rare, that think out of the box and do something different," he said.

"It's funny because we were just starting to do something called Map My Cat, so she's actually the first one to do it - before us."

The company has been selling the Petrek GPS for about a year and more than 1000 have been sold around New Zealand, Lin said.

 - Stuff

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