Cats are taking over cartography. Somehow, a rogue Google Maps contributor managed to design a (purely aspirational) hiking trail near Hobson Bay in Auckland, New Zealand in the shape of a wide-eyed, smiling cat. Up until a few hours ago, according to the Google Maps version of the world, the cat-like path appeared to extend the Hobson Bay Walkway, a real trail near the bay.
“According to Google, it would take three minutes to walk the [250 meters, or 820 feet] from the tip of the cat’s tail to its eyeball,” says the New Zealand publication, Stuff. the New Zealand news site that got tipped off to the rogue cartography writes. Though map-makers leave fake information in maps all the time to catch copy-cats (they’re called trap streets), Stuff.co.nz also reached out to Google’s Australian and New Zealand division, and were told Google wasn’t aware of the feline form.
“We were aware that cats were trying to take over YouTube, but we didn’t realize it was extending to Google Maps. We’re looking into this,” Google’s Annie Baxter told the site.
Using Google Map Maker, anyone can draw a road or add a place to Google Maps, but it doesn’t just show up on the public map automatically–it has to be reviewed and approved before it shows up on the public map. There’s a dedicated team of Google editors who approve new features, but many new additions to Google Maps can be reviewed and approved by other amateur Map Maker users, especially if the reviewer has a track record of good edits. National highways and well-known landmarks require multiple reviews, but a random hiking trail? Not so much.
So our mysterious cat cartographer could probably have done the job armed with a history of legitimate Map Maker changes and accomplice. As you might expect from someone nerdy enough to draw prank animals in Google Maps.
A Reddit user has stepped forward claiming to be a friend of the cartographer, saying “He started with a cat, and then added bits to it each day (like a collar, whiskers ect [sic].)” but provides no further elaboration on the method of map design utilized.
And less than 24 hours after the news story went live, the cat is off the map. (Let it be known that the map-cat was wearing a collar, so it was clearly a well-kept house cat of a trail.)
While we haven’t seen this Google cat with our own eyes (we are trusting the word of Kiwi Interneters here), this does serve as a reminder: Maps are only as accurate as the people who make them. And if one random dude in New Zealand says there’s a hiking trail that looks like a cat from space, who’s to say there isn’t? Only Google, the all-knowing eye.