Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species 19 – The Sand Cat


Sand cat and kitsDescription
The sand cat is currently classified as near threatened.   Not perfect;  but it does mean it is in with a chance of survival.

The same size as a domestic cat,  these incredibly appealing little creatures are the only felid found in the desert.   And… they have some very novel traits for sustaining the extreme temperatures and avoiding those who seek to harm them.

Their feet are covered with extremely dense hair,  which not only insulates them against the hot sand,  it also allows them to move around without leaving any footprints.   When approached at night by man,  they have learnt to close their eyes,  thus avoiding any reflected light.   Combine both of these with the pale colour of their coats and… voilà! They are very hard to see.

They are able to live without water for long periods of time,  deriving fluids from their prey to keep them going.   Their prey is located underground and they are excellent diggers.   Digging also comes in handy on hot days when the need of a cool burrow arises. Considering they live throughout the year in temperatures ranging from  -5ºC to 51ºC,  this seems very sensible.
A particularly notable development in the species is the large ear pinnae which enhances the cat’s sense of hearing (important for finding underground prey) and prevents sand from blowing in.

As a result of an ancient tradition,  which holds the belief that the sand cats were companions to the prophet Mohammed and his daughter,  poultry farmers will not take action when sand cats attack their stock.

Habitat
Desert plains with sparse vegetation and rocky valleys containing shrubs and trees
Where
Northern Africa and Central Asia
What they eat
Arabian toad-head lizards,  gerbils,  birds and snakes
Threats
Habitat loss and degradation.  Natural predators – larger snakes,  jackals and owls,  feral and domestic cats and dogs.  Man,  by way of poisoning,  and further by capturing for the illegal pet trade.  They are also hunted for sport.
Status: Near Threatened
Listed as near threatened by the IUCN,  numbers are estimated at about 11,000,  though it is difficult to be accurate and may be greater.  In 2009,  200 cats were known to be held in captivity in 45 global institutions.  Due to the conflict between Israel and Jordan in 1994,  the sand cat became extinct in Israel.  Since then,  four sand kittens have been born at the Zoological Center in Tel Aviv.    Perhaps this species will be saved after all.

“We never know the worth of water till the well is dry”   Thomas Fuller

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