60-Second Science

Domestic Cats Roam Far and Wide

A two-year study tracked feral and domestic cats and found they roam over surprisingly large ranges. Steve Mirsky reports

Lions roaming the savannah are a staple of nature documentaries. But the millions of little lions that live in our homes and neighborhoods also lead fascinating lives. We know more about those lives now, because a two-year-long study used radio-transmitters to track cats at the southern edge of the cities of Champaign and Urbana in Illinois. It would have taken a dozen field researchers to collect the same data. The study is in the Journal of Wildlife Management. [Jeff Horn et al., "Home Range, Habitat Use, and Activity Patterns of Free-Roaming Domestic Cats"]

The entire kittie cohort included both housecats and feral cats, and ranged over almost 6,300 acres. One feral cat’s range topped out at 1,351 acres. New York’s Central Park covers 843 acres.

Owned cats with homes roamed way less than their feral counterparts. But they still averaged a range of just under five acres. The pets were highly active just 3 percent of the time, compared with 14 percent for the cats that need to find their own food. The work should shed light on protecting species that the cats hunt, and inform the efforts to stop the spread of feline contagious diseases.

—Steve Mirsky

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

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