Cats eyes just don’t cut it for Two Oceans runners

TWO things caught my attention during last weekend’s Two Oceans marathon. One was that Cape Town had again lost a golden opportunity to publicise the beautiful peninsula and the other was a somewhat in-depth comment by legendary long distance runner Bruce Fordyce about the inherent danger of “cats eyes” on the Chapman’s Peak section of the marathon.

The lost opportunity, in my opinion, was the failure once again of the Cape Town City Council to ensure that the helicopter coverage of the race included panoramic views of the iconic sights of the peninsula which would have brought priceless world-wide publicity to the Cape.

It’s marathon season now all over the world and I can assure you the big city marathons such as Boston, Paris, London, New York and Berlin would not have lost out on such an occasion. The Cape event as usual, focused for the most part on the race and runners instead.

But what intrigued me again, was Fordyce’s comments on “cats eyes” in the road which, he said, results in 40 or 50 people each year being carted off to hospital for stitches in their feet caused by these “impediments” on the tarmac. “They’re so busy admiring the beautiful views instead of concentrating on the road hazards,” he told viewers.

“Cats eyes,” are, of course, the reflective glass implants running down the centre of roads which glow in the headlights of vehicles at night in perilous areas prone to fog and mists – like the scenic Chapman’s Peak drive for example.

So, have you ever wondered why cats’ eyes, from which the road version is derived, shine at night? Well, apparently in the 1950s zoologists were trying to discover whether a cat could really see in a room which was pitch-dark to the human eye. The investigators armed with torches, visited zoos hoping to make new discoveries about the eyes of cats and other animals. They discovered what we ordinary folk think is a darkened room is actually full of tiny rays of light – rays which a cat is able to pick up easily.

“A cat’s pupils, mere slits in the daylight, expand far more than our own,” a British zoologist said. “Its eyes also carry at the back a kind of reflecting mirror which accounts for them seeing in the dark. The cat therefore collects what light there is and sees.”

One of the scientists matched his sharp eyes against those of six cats in an attempt to find out how much cats can see in the night. When a saucer of milk was illuminated with a light beam so faint that it was invisible to the scientist, the cats saw it at once. The saucer was in an airtight glass-sided box so that the cats could get no clue from their noses.

Some Chinese claim they can tell the time accurately by looking at the eyes of a cat on a bright day. They say the cats’ eyes are smallest at sunrise and gradually widen as the light fades and remain in this condition until sunrise when they start to get narrow again.

So there you are – a story of reflection, lost opportunity and cuts to the feet. I do hope you weren’t one of them. Ouch!


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