The Detroit Post
Monday, 29 November, 2021

Why Are Sand Cats Endangered

Brent Mccoy
• Monday, 19 October, 2020
• 11 min read

The IUCN Red List categorize this small wild cat as Least Concern. Almost invariably the survivability of wild cat species living in the wild gets worse year-on-year because of increased human activity globally.

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Also, with respect to the sand cat “confirmed recordings are sparse”. This calls into question the reliability of population size assessments.

There is “no convincing evidence to support a range-wide decline over three generations…” This cat occurs more often and is found over a larger area than as set out in one of the Red List criterion B. Note: criteria B and C cover population size, subpopulations, numbers if mature individuals, continuing decline, fragmentation of populations, area of occupancy, extent of occurrence and location.

Degradation and loss of habitat (this is typical for most wild cat species). This is because of increased human activity in areas where the sand lives together with their domestic animals and animals which are found near humans (e.g. foxes).

There is also increased infrastructure development and human settlement on sand cat lands. Before qualifying, I worked in many jobs including professional photography.

The coat is soft and dense, mostly pale sandy brown to light gray, slightly darker on the back and whitish on the belly. A reddish streak runs across each cheek from the outer corner of the eyes; the lower half of the face and chest is whitish to pale yellow.

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There are pale cross stripes running down the flanks, almost invisible until the legs are stretched out, and indistinct bars on the limbs. Another desert adaptation is the long, dense, hairs covering the soles of the feet, providing insulation from the hot sands and helping them move across shifting surfaces.

They have evolved a thick coat which insulates them from the alternating intense heat and cold of a desert environment. (Click for larger image) Sand cats occur across the Sahara Desert, from Morocco in the west to as far as Egypt and the Sudan in the east.

In Asia, they have been recorded in Syria, Iran, east of the Caspian Sea in Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The first radio telemetry study on these little cats (1993) was in Israel, where biologists discovered they were extremely difficult to track.

The fur on the soles of their feet that prevents them from sinking in soft sand also makes their tracks almost invisible. Home range sizes likely vary according to ecological conditions and vegetation cover available for prey animals.

A radio telemetry study in Israel suggests large home ranges, with one male using an area of 16 km². Their claws do not fully retract and are not very sharp, as there is little opportunity to sharpen them in the desert, and they are likely blunted by digging.

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Because the hot dry air of the desert absorbs sound, large ears are required to pick up the faint squeaks of their prey. In the Sahara they are known as ‘the cat that digs holes.’ Among Saharan nomads, Sandals have a reputation for being snake hunters, particularly of horned and sand vipers, which they stun with rapid blows to the head before dispatching with a neck bite.

Primarily a nocturnal animal, they spend the hot daylight hours in a shallow burrow dug into a dune or beneath a shrub. They have occasionally been observed above ground in daylight near their burrows, lying on their backs in a posture to shed internal heat.

At nightfall, they take up a lookout position at their den opening, and survey the surrounding area for about 15 minutes before leaving. Sandals are solitary animals with a very low population, and make use of a loud mating call, much like the barking of a small dog.

The loud barking, combined with excellent hearing, enables these cats to find each other over great distances. Other vocalizations include mewling, growling, spitting, hissing, screaming and purring much as in domestic cats.

Vulnerable arid ecosystems are being rapidly converted by human settlement and activity, especially degraded through livestock grazing. Additional threats are the introduction of feral and domestic dogs and cats, creating direct competition for prey, predation and disease transmission.

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In Iran, Sandals are killed by shepherd dogs and trapped in snares set for other species. Tomboy nomads living northwest of Lake Chad consider Sandals frequent chicken thieves which readily enter their camp in the evenings.

Furthermore, studies on the behavior and ecology of the Sand Cat are crucial to apply appropriate conservation measures. This small cat is widely distributed in the deserts of North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.

The French soldier and naturalist Victor Locke first described the sand cat from a specimen found in the area of “Begonia” in the northern Algerian Sahara, and proposed to name the cat in recognition of Jean August Marguerite, who headed the expedition into the Sahara. In 1926, Russian zoologist Sergei Agnew described a sand cat collected in the Karakum Desert in Turkmenistan under the name Eremaelurus rhinovirus.

In 1938, British zoologist Reginald Inner Po cock considered this specimen as a species under the name Felix rhinovirus. There are blackish bars on the limbs, and the tail has a black tip with two or three dark rings alternating with buff bands.

It is a small cat characterized by a flat, wide head, short legs and a relatively long (23 to 31 cm (9.1 to 12.2 in)) tail. The 5-7 cm (2.0-2.8 in) long ears are set low, giving a broad flat appearance to the head.

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The head is sandy brown, whereas the lower and upper lips, chin, throat and belly are white. The lower part of the face is whitish, and a faint reddish line runs from the outer corner of each eye across the cheeks.

In northern regions, the sand cat's winter coat is very long and thick, with hairs reaching up to 2 in (5.1 cm) in length. The sand cat's claws on the forelimbs are short and very sharp, 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. It prefers flat or undulating terrain with sparse vegetation, avoids bare sand dunes, where there is relatively little food.

In North Africa, the sand cat occurs marginally in western Morocco, including former Sahara Occidental, in Algeria, Mali, Niger and in the rocky deserts of eastern Egypt to the Sinai Peninsula. In Central Asia, the sand cat occurs east of the Caspian Sea throughout the Karakum Desert from the Start Plateau in the northwest to the Open Dag Mountains in the south extending through the Kyzylkum Desert to the SYR Darya River and the northern border to Afghanistan.

Hearing plays an important role in interspecific communication; sand cats make a short, rasping bark in connection with mating activity. During a radio telemetry study in Israel, sand cats were found to have large home ranges, with one male using an area of 16 km 2 (6.2 sq mi).

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Before retiring below ground at dawn, the observed cats adopted the same lookout position at the mouth of the burrow. Small rodents are their primary prey, with records from Africa including spiny mice, birds, gerbils, Jeroboam, and young of cape hare.

They have also been observed to hunt small birds like greater hope lark, desert lark, and consume reptiles such as small desert monitors, fringe-toed lizards, sand fish, short-fingered gecko, horned and sand vipers, and insects. Estrus in sand cats lasts from five to six days and is accompanied by calling and increased scent marking.

The kittens weigh 39 to 80 grams (1.4 to 2.8 oz) at birth, with spotted pale yellow or reddish fur. They grow relatively rapidly, reaching three quarters of the adult size within five months of birth.

Sand cats are fully independent by the end of their first year and reach sexual maturity not long after. Vulnerable arid ecosystems are being rapidly degraded by human settlement and activity, especially livestock grazing.

In Israel, sand cats were thought to be endangered by predation of larger carnivores such as Caracas, wolves and, of those who venture close to human settlements, dogs. Hunting is prohibited in Algeria, Iran, Israel, Kazakhstan, Mauritania, Niger, Pakistan and Tunisia.

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No legal protection exists in Egypt, Mali, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates. The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo started a sand cat reintroduction project in Israel's ARVA Desert.

Several captive-born individuals from the zoo's population were kept in an acclimatization enclosure but did not survive subsequent release into the wild. With sand cats being very susceptible to respiratory infections, they have to be kept in very arid enclosures where humidity and temperature do not fluctuate.

In January 2010, the Al Ain Zoo announced the first success of an in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer procedure on sand cats, resulting in the birth of two kittens at its facilities. In July 2012, four sand cat kittens were born at the Rama An Zoo as part of the European Endangered Species Program.

Even though it has blunt claws, this miniature cat digs well to search for its prey which consists of gerbils and similar rodents with the infrequent lizard or else snake. This species of cat is found in deserts of North Africa and West, Central and South Asia.

This cute cat is endangered because of illegal pet trade and being shot for a sport. I'm not sure if any cat BREED is endangered (although Havana browns are considered the rarest).

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The rarest cat species in the world is the critically endangered Amur Leopard. The Sphinx cat is a breed known for its lack of fur.

It is a domestic cat that is not endangered although finding one can be difficult, and they can be expensive. Tip: We highly recommend you to let the cat rub the sand after dinner.

They are wild cats that are protected by their resident countries' laws. The Amur Leopard of far Eastern Europe, is the most endangered.

Sand cats are being protected and conserved by prohibiting their hunting in certain parts of the world like Algeria, Iran, and Israel. Some of the most critically endangered include the Eurasian Lynx, the Tabby Tiger, and the Florida Panther.

Hunting them is illegal in Algeria, Iran, Israel, Kazakhstan, Mauritania, Niger, Pakistan and Tunisia. However, Egypt, Mali, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates do not have any protections in place.

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Israel is working to release Sandals back into the wild, as they are considered Threatened in that country. Some problems Sandals face are habitat loss and capture driven by illegal exotic pet trade.

There was a time when humans didn’t see a single Arabian sand cat for about ten years. Also, the fact that there are very few scientists that actually focus their research on sand cats add to why the creatures are so obscure.

They’re naturally found in the Northern Sahara Desert, in other parts of Egypt, Israel, Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan, and Iraq. The Arabian sand cats are made to live in such high temperature areas, and the fact that they’re hard to spot probably means that they’re just sheltering themselves from the constant heat.

They have thick paws that are built to walk across the hot desert sand, probably in pursuit of prey. Their coats are colored the way they are for camouflage purposes and also to keep their body temperatures cool.

In order to stay away from the damaging heat of the sun, Arabian sand cats will dig holes underneath rocks or bushes to use as hiding places. Instead of meowing, Arabian sand cats vocalize by making a combination of yodeling and barking sounds.

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These calls are pretty loud and unique, and you’ll hear them echo through the desert when one is trying to find a mate. If you’re afraid of snakes, the Arabian sand cat is the one animal you’d want on your side.

Kittens are born with distinct markings on their coats that disappear into adulthood. The purpose of this breed’s large and forward facing eyes is for judging distance.

The need for field research and conservation practices are highly important to understand exactly how these animals live and what they need in order for their species to flourish again. It looks a bit like a domestic cat, though with the addition of furry paws, giant ears, and a very curious personality.

These cats are small and stocky, with short legs and a tail that is relatively long. Their feet are very thickly furred, which is thought to help them cope with the desert’s extreme temperatures-like wearing shoes to walk on hot asphalt.

Sand cats are not good jumpers or climbers, but are excellent diggers, and dig shallow burrows in which to avoid desert temperatures during the day. Sand cats eat rodents, birds, hares, reptiles, and insects.

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It seems that their hearing is important for communication during the breeding season, the timing of which depends on the location: January-April (Sahara), September – October (Pakistan), and April (Turkmenistan). After gestation of 59 – 63 days, females produce 2 – 4 kittens, although they may bear two litters in the same year in some areas.

The primary threats to this species include destruction of habitat by humans and the decline of their prey populations. They are also hunted for sport, and are easy targets, as they are not aggressive, and they like to sun themselves during the day on rocks.

According to the IUCN Red List, there are relatively few records of Sand cat and the species is often reported as rare. The total population size of the Sand cat is conservatively estimated at 27,264 mature individuals.

Sand cats have been observed at night to close their eyes when humans approach so that it is difficult to spot them because they blend into the environment. Their “pinnate” or “ear flaps” allow it to hear so well it can detect the vibrations of prey on the ground.

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