Author: Chenxi Sun

Program of Study: PhD in Chemistry, Physical Sciences Division (PSD)

A cute squirrel on campus. (Photo taken by author)

Description: It’s fun to find so many squirrels in UChicago. But it’s a little weird that I have never seen a cat there. Cats are really common animals actually. So in this podcast, I shared some interesting experiences with squirrels and some assumptions about why I haven’t seen a cat.

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Transcript (provided by author):

It’s fun to find so many squirrels in UChicago. But it’s a little weird that I have never seen a cat there. Cats are really common animals actually. So in this podcast, I shared some interesting experiences with squirrels and some assumptions about why I haven’t seen a cat.

Welcome to the ELI’s Finding Chicago Global Perspectives Podcast Series for AEPP 2023. I’m your host, Chenxi, and I’m currently enrolled in the University of Chicago’s Physical Science Division.

I first came to the campus on Aug. 10 to fetch my student ID card. Then I explored the campus and was amazed at the beautiful architecture. When I was near the Smart Museum, I suddenly saw a squirrel coming out and staying just in front of me at a less than one-meter distance! That was the first time I saw squirrels not in zoos, pet markets, or forests. A natural squirrel sharing places with human beings! That’s really new and interesting to me. So I just took a picture of the squirrel and followed it as it moved. It quickly climbed up a tree, sprawled on it, and finally disappeared into the dense foliage. That’s just the beginning of my frequent encounters with squirrels on campus.

After that, almost every day while I am wandering near the grass and trees on campus, I can see some squirrels. They seem to hold some nuts in their hands and look for some places in the grass to hide them. Not only near trees and grass. Once I was admiring the grandness of Rockefeller Chapel from the outside and surprisingly I found a squirrel outside one window of the chapel. It’s hard to imagine why it came to such a religious place. Maybe it’s a devout squirrel. It’s fun to see a single squirrel. But if you see two together, the happiness is doubled or even tripled. When I was waiting for the school shuttle near Levi Hall, one squirrel was chasing another and they dashed so fast, so madly. And I was so close to them. In a second, I was considering if they would bump into me. Also, once when I was taking a walk in the east part of the campus, I saw two squirrels. One of them shot itself like a spring to the other one and then rolled over and over again on the ground just like it was performing something. Maybe it was dancing for the other one and wanted to capture its attention and heart. I should also mention the size of their tails. The size varies among them. Some have a really large, fluffy tail and I really want to touch them.

Besides squirrels, I saw dogs and birds on campus. Then I started to think. It seems that there is one kind of common animal that I’ve never seen before on campus. That’s the cat! I used to see stray cats everywhere in my undergraduate university and why not a single cat here? For the following days, I continued to wander around the campus and tried to find the tracks of cats. But no results. Also, I’ve never seen cats in Hyde Park neighborhood. So anecdotally speaking, we can easily come to the conclusion that Chicagoans do not like cats. Of course, that’s not true. People are used to walking their dogs outside the house but if they have cats, they just keep them at home. On the one hand, cats don’t need a lot of exercise like dogs. On the other hand, pet owners may worry about their cats’ life and health. In the open areas, cats face higher risks of being exposed to diseases and car accidents.

And then why there are no feral cats or stray cats on campus? Cats prefer to act in the evenings. But I usually walk on campus during the daytime. So actually, my observation is biased. So one night around 10 p.m., I went to the lawn again and stayed there for about 30 minutes watching around. Unfortunately, there’s still no cat. But it may be a coincidence. Because after all, the observation time is limited. So I talked with a campus safety ambassador. Campus safety ambassadors are trained Campus Security Authorities who are assigned to exterior locations throughout the campus area. Every day they observe the surroundings on campus for a long time. So I think they have more chances to see a cat. One night, I asked a campus security ambassador if he had seen a cat before. He told me he had worked on campus for 7 years and had never seen a cat. That’s a really long observation. So I believe cats are really uncommon in UChicago. One possible reason could be the limited food sources. In my undergraduate university, people like to feed them food frequently. For example, I used to buy cat food to attract one cute cat and touch it. So staying on campus they can enjoy adequate food every day without looking for it. But here, at UChicago, the campus is usually very clean and tidy so there are no food straps for them to eat. And no food, no cats! Another reason could be a more complete cat protection system. There are many instructions about what you can do to help them if you find a stray cat or kitten. And in Chicago, there’s a program called TNR which means trap, neuter, and return. People routinely feed the feral or stray cats and then trap them. These cats are then sterilized and neutered to reduce their reproduction and also keep them healthy. I wonder if these instructions and programs make more Chicagoans aware of protecting cats and reducing their outdoor population. So I’m not able to see one on campus.

That’s all for today’s Podcast. My experiences with squirrels on campus and some assumptions about not seeing a cat. In all, I really like the peace of our large grass and being neighbors with many animals. Have you ever seen a cat in UChicago and what do you think of it? Thank you for listening.