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London Zoo Targets Cat Lovers With Interactive Map

  |  March 11, 2013   |  Comments

The interactive Cat Map also pushes a new permanent tiger exhibit and promotes conservation of critically endangered Sumatran tigers.

While Grumpy Cat may be the hottest name in Internet cats these days, the Zoological Society of London's London Zoo is hoping to draw attention to two much larger cats with its interactive Cat Map, which was launched to promote the opening of its £3.6 million ($5.4 million) Tiger Territory on March 22.

To welcome the new cats to the neighborhood, the Map also invites cat owners to bring their own felines online.

Launched March 1, the Cat Map originally focused on London-based cats, making it what the Zoo called the "most inclusive survey of the capital's puss population to date." But the Cat Map has since grown to include cats from all over the world.

On Friday, the Cat Map had about 7,700 cats. By Monday, that figure had grown to more than 9,500 cats, mostly in the U.S. and Europe, but also in South America, Asia, and even Africa.

When adding their pet to the Cat Map, users upload photos and input the cat's name, gender, age, and coloring from what the Zoo calls "pre-set categories." They are then automatically placed on the interactive map with an icon based on their coloring. (When certain fields aren't filled out, the Map says, "We know nothing about this cat," and/or an image appears with a question mark.)

The map is also searchable by age, gender, color, and location.

The Zoo says its Cat Map mimics techniques used by field conservationists when recording the numbers and locations of individual animals in the wild.

Digital Communications Executive and Cat Map Creator Filip Hnizdo says the Zoo will be creating reports from the submitted data, such as how many tabby cats live in certain areas or what popular names are.

In addition, zookeepers have added profiles for the Zoo's new cats, Jae Jae and Melati, which are critically endangered Sumatran tigers. Hnizdo says the Zoo wanted to put the tigers on an equal level with housecats, so they include the same profile information. The zoo's tigers, however, have tiger icons instead of cat icons on the map.

"We want to emphasize they're coming to London and joining other cats in the cat population," Hnizdo says.

The Zoo also hopes the number of cats on the Cat Map will help drive home the notion that there are only about 300 Sumatran tigers left in the world.

"We're looking for people who love their cats and are seeing how [the map] grows and pollinates," Hnizdo says. "It's a bit of fun, but there's also a strong message behind it, which is the conservation of tigers."

In fact, according to the Zoo, Jae Jae and Melati have come to London after being matched by the Sumatran tiger studbook, a worldwide breeding program coordinated by conservationists at the Zoo, in the hope that they will successfully breed.

@ZSLLondonZoo, which has 19,000 followers, has been tweeting about landmark cats on the Cat Map, such as the 5,000th cat to be added, a ginger cat from Cincinnati named Milo.

@ZSLLondonZoo uses #CatMap for such tweets.

The Zoo is also posting news about the tigers to its 21,000 Facebook fans, such as their first "date."

In addition, each cat that is posted to the Map can be rated, liked on Facebook, tweeted about, or shared on Google+.

When asked how long the Map will remain live, Hnizdo says, "We'll see how it goes," but also notes the site continues to grow in popularity.

"It proves people love their cats and if they love small cats, they love big cats as well," Hnizdo adds.

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Lisa Lacy

In addition to ClickZ and Search Engine Watch, Lisa's work has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Luxury Spot, LearnVest, MarthaStewart.com, GoodHousekeeping.com, amNewYork, and The Wall Street Journal. She's a graduate of Columbia's School of Journalism.

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