Sand cats live in deserts, where it is sandy, and that's how they got their name. They can also be called sand dune cats or Felis margarita, which is their scientific name. You might think they were named after the drink that's called a margarita, because a nice, cold margarita would be a nice thing to have if you were out in the desert. But that's not where the name came from. Instead, the cats were given their name by a naturalist named Victor Loche in 1858, who described a specimen he found in the Sahara. I don't know if the specimen was dead or alive, but it's probably best not to know these things. Anyway, the man who led the expedition into the Sahara was Jean Auguste Margueritte, and Mr. Loche named the sand cat in honor of him.
Well, okay, so besides living in northern Africa, sand cats also live in southwest and central Asia. They have thick fur on the bottoms of their feet, so they can walk across hot sand or rocky ground. Also, they don't drink water very often because they get all the moisture they need from the prey they eat. Since 2002, the sand cat has been listed as NEAR THREATENED because of concern over its low population. The main threat to the cat is desertification and other types of destruction of its prey's habitat. The sand cat's prey is mainly small rodents and reptiles, plus sometimes birds. Also, there is a lot of competition from foxes and snakes and other animals that prey on the same things the sand cat does.
Sand cats are small and stocky, with broad heads, short legs, and fairly long tails. They weigh anywhere from 3 to 7 pounds, which makes them about the same size as a chihuahua. The ears of a sand cat have large openings and wide ear canals. Also, the outer ear is big and triangular. All of this means that sand cats have a super-good sense of hearing, which is important if your live in the desert, where there's not much prey. Sand cats can even hear something like a rodent underground and dig it out before it can get away.
|Photo by Payman Sazesh|
The best habitat for a sand cat is where there is flat or rolling terrain with not much vegetation. The cats get along okay in temperatures anywhere from 23ºF to 126ºF. When conditions are extreme, they hang out in burrows which might be abandoned fox or porcupine burrows. Or else they enlarge rodent burrows by digging, which they are good at doing. Usually, their burrows slant down to about 5 ft. deep. In the winter, sand cats will come out in the sun during the daytime, but during hot weather, they only come out at night to hunt.
|Arabian Sand Cat|
In 1993, Israeli biologists did the first study on sand cats to find out how far they went at night, how big their ranges were, and things like that. Right away, the scientists discovered that it was hard to track the cats. For one thing, they don't really leave footprints in the sand because of all the fur on the bottoms of their feet. And when a light is shined on them, they crouch down and close their eyes, so that no reflection can be seen. Also, the cats are the same color as the sand and rocks, plus their bury their feces, instead of using it to mark their territories. Still, the Israelis were able to estimate that a male sand cat's home range was about 6.2 square miles.
Sand cats mostly go their own ways until mating season comes around. A female sand cat is in heat for five to six days, and during this time, she makes sounds that are sort of like the barking of a small dog. Also she does a lot of scent marking. Fifty-nine to 66 days after the female mates, her kittens are born. The average litter size is three. By the time the kittens are a year old, they are totally independent and sexually mature.
Kittens born to sand cats in captivity do not have a very good survival rate because of neglect by first-time mothers. Another problem sand cats have in captivity is that they are sensitive to respiratory diseases. To avoid having the cats get sick, zoos need to keep them in arid enclosures where the humidity and temperature are controlled. A zoo in Jerusalem has started a reintroduction project, but it has not been very successful so far. There are 200 or so sand cats in zoos and refuges around the world. In vitro fertilization and embryo transfer has led to several sand kitten births in zoos in recent years, which is a good thing.
|Sand Cat at Berlin Zoo|
Photo by Christina Skov
If you want to watch a 4-minute video of a sand cat named Canyon at the Big Cat Rescue, you can go here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7MjG9r_YP_U
|Photo by Nicam Shilova|
I told Mom that maybe we should get a sand cat of our own, but Mom said it is not arid enough inside our house. Which means that the sand kitty would probably get sick and die. Then we would all be sad. I guess she's right about this, and I guess she's also right when she says we have way too many cats here already!
|Photo by Johanna Leguerre/AFP|