The Sand Cat

Also known as the sand dune cat, the sand cat is widely distributed in North Africa’s Sahara Desert, the Arabian Desert and deserts in Pakistan and Iran.

Also known as the sand dune cat, the sand cat is widely distributed in North Africa’s Sahara Desert, the Arabian Desert and deserts in Pakistan and Iran. They are small in size, but extremely hardy and well adapted to their harsh habitat. They easily survive in a wide range of temperatures, ranging from below zero to as high as 58°C.

One of the most difficult cats to spot in the wild, the sand cat’s colouring makes for perfect camouflage in the desert environment where they live. They are also elusive and do not leave tracks when walking on sand (thick fur under their paws keep their feet from sinking in and leaving tracks). They are therefore one of the wild felines of the world we still do not know much about. What we do know is that their numbers are sadly dropping as a result of habitat loss, poaching and recreational hunting.

Sand cat facts

Scientific name: Felis margarita

Distribution: The deserts of northern Africa and southwest and central Asia

Habitat: Flat or undulating terrain with sparse vegetation

Prey: Rodents such as spiny mice, jirds, gerbils, jerboas; the young of cape hare; birds such as lark; reptiles such as the desert monitor, fringe-toed lizards, sandfish, short-fingered gecko, horned and sand vipers; and insects

Number of kittens in a litter: Three

Lifespan: Up to 13 years

Weight: 1.35 to 3.2kg

Conservation status: Near threatened

Mesmerising slink

What we also know (and have captured on film) is the unique way sand cats move while hunting. When a sand cat spots a mouse, his whole demeanour changes. He flattens himself and slinks at a very fast pace, close to the ground. Sand cats are very light on their feet and when moving so close to the ground, they are basically invisible and therefore able to surprise their prey.

-5 to 58°C

The range of temperatures in which they can survive

40km/h

How fast they can run

39 to 80g

The weight range of sand cat kittens at birth

5cm

The length of a sand cat’s winter coat

Well adapted

Their thick, pale coat ranges in colour from sandy brown to grey, while their bellies, chests and lower muzzles are white. This combination of colours blends in perfectly with the desert sand. Black markings on their legs and tails add further to the camouflage effect. They are well adapted to their desert environment and can survive far away from water sources – they get their moisture from their prey. They are able to walk on very hot or loose sand as their feet are protected by thick fur.

Why the large ears?

The sand cat’s large ears serve as highly sensitive dishes, able to pick up sounds both above and below ground. Their large ears also serve to dissipate heat (a tight network of blood vessels close to the skin help to cool the system). Interestingly, their ears are set very low in order to protect the inner ears from wind-blown sand. Another north African dessert dweller, the fennec fox sports big ears for the

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