Holly, a four-year old tortoiseshell, escaped from her owners RV in early November about 200 miles from home. About 2 months later, Holly was returned to the owners when she was brought to a vet near their home and identified by microchip. Scientists don’t really have many explanations for how this type of travel is possible. Making the story more remarkable, Holly is mostly an indoor cat (when not traversing half of Florida).
“I really believe these stories, but they’re just hard to explain,” said Marc Bekoff, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Colorado. “Maybe being street-smart, maybe reading animal cues, maybe being able to read cars, maybe being a good hunter. I have no data for this.”
There is, in fact, little scientific dogma on cat navigation. Migratory animals like birds, turtles and insects have been studied more closely, and use magnetic fields, olfactory cues, or orientation by the sun.
Peter Borchelt, a New York animal behaviorist, wondered if Holly followed the Florida coast by sight or sound, tracking Interstate 95 and deciding to “keep that to the right and keep the ocean to the left.”
But, he said, “nobody’s going to do an experiment and take a bunch of cats in different directions and see which ones get home.”
The closest, said Roger Tabor, a British cat biologist, may have been a 1954 study in Germany in which cats placed in a covered circular maze with exits every 15 degrees most often exited in the direction of their homes, but more reliably if their homes were less than five kilometers away.