Animal Files – Sand Cats: The Only Cats That Live in the Desert

By Mihai Andrei, ZMEScience

I know, I know, we’ve written about sand cats before, but these are simply not animals you can just write once. Now, we’re back – with more pics, and more info about these adorable yet ferocious predators.

Sand cats can be found deep in both sandy and stony deserts, far away from any source of water. Having thickly furred feet, they are well adapted to the extreme and harsh environment of the desert, and are well insulated against both cold and hot temperatures. The sand cat’s claws on the forelimbs are short and very sharp while the ones on the hind feet are small and blunt. The long hairs growing between its toes create a cushion of fur over the foot pads, helping to insulate them while moving over hot sand – just like the Fennec Fox. This feature also masks their footprints and makes them very difficult to follow around.

They generally live solitary lives, meeting with other sand cats only during mating season. They communicate using scent, claw marks and urine (especially for marking their territories). They inhabit burrows and use either abandoned fox or porcupine burrows or enlarge those dug by gerbils or other rodents. They also have a very specific way of moving, at a fast run punctuated with occasional leaps. They are capable of sudden bursts of speed and can sprint at speeds of 30 to 40 km (19 to 25 mi) per hour, which is remarkable for their size.

They are also very efficient predators, generally hunting small rodents. However, they have also been observed to hunt small birds and even reptiles such as Desert Monitor, Fringe-toed lizards, sandfish, short-fingered gecko, horned – and sand vipers! If they can’t find any prey, they’ll even eat insects. The sand cat has a bite force quotient of 133.1, which is the highest of all cats (calculated as bite strength / body size).

However, for all its cuteness and its ability to adapt and hunt, the sand cat is threatened with extinction. Felis margarita is listed on CITES Appendix II. Hunt is prohibited in Algeria, Iran, Israel, Kazakhstan, Mauritania, Niger, Pakistan and Tunisia but still allowed in Egypt, Mali, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates.

Growing sand cats in captivity is extremely difficult; they are also prone to various respiratory illnesses which makes them unsuitable as pets. As of July 2009, the global captive population comprised 200 individuals in 45 institutions – I couldn’t find any reliable and more recent data. But there is an abundance of rescue organizations dedicated to helping save these little guys.

 

Reprinted with permission from ZMEScience