The Sand Cat is the only species of feline that is found mainly in deserts. They are also known as the Sand Dune Cats and are found in different regions of Asia and Africa.
There are different subspecies of this felines, including:
- Felis margarita thinobius
- Felis margarita margarita
- Felis margarita airensis
- Felis margarita scheffeli
- Felis margarita meinertzhageni
- Felis margarita harrisoni
Various subspecies of the sand cat are occasionally referred to as African Sand Cant and Arabian Sand Cat, depending on the range of their distribution.
These cats have specific characteristic features in the way they look that sets them apart from other wild cats.
The head-and-body length of this species ranges between 15 inches and 20 inches (39 cm and 52 cm), while their height from ground to the shoulder can be between 10 to 12 inches (25.4 cm to 30.4 cm). The sand cat’s tail can be between 9.1 to 12 inches (23.2 cm to 31 cm) long.
The whole body of the sand cats is covered in long thick fur, and in the northern populations, the winter coat is longer than those of the ones living in the southern regions of these cats’ distribution range. Each strand of hair in their fur is about 2 inches (5.1 cm) long on average.
In Northern Africa, these cats can be found marginally in the western parts of Morocco, including the former Sahara Occidental and Algeria. The distribution range of the sand cat includes the Sinai Peninsula and gets up to the eastern Egyptian rocky deserts.
They have also been sighted in places such as Libya, Mali, Tunisia, and Niger. They are also known to be popular in the Adrar mountains and the Majabat al Kobra.
The central Asian populations of the sand cat are scattered from the eastern parts of the Caspian Sea to the Kara Kum Desert.
The range of these felines includes the Ustyurt Plateau in the north-west all the way to the Kopet Dag Mountains and extending up to the Kyzylkum Desert and the Syr Darya River and some parts of Afghanistan in the north.
Range and Habitat
Sand Cats mainly live in sandy and stony deserts. They would rather remain in undulating flat terrain with scanty vegetation, and free of bare sand dunes.
These animals have the ability to survive in extreme hot and cold temperatures from 23 °F (−5 °C) to 126 °F (52 °C), taking shelter in their burrows when the weather gets too hot or too cold.
Per a radio-telemetry study carried out in Israel, these felines can have large home ranges. A single male Sand Cat was discovered to be using an area as wide as 16 km2.
What Do They Eat?
The diet of these cats consists mainly of rodents and other smaller creatures because they are carnivorous animals.
Sand Cats also hunt and feed on little birds such as the desert lark, and the greater hoopoe lark. They also feed on various desert reptiles, including desert monitor, fringe-toed lizards, short-fingered gecko, sand vipers, and horned vipers as well as different insects and invertebrates.
As permanent dwellers of the deserts, these cats attain all the needed moisture from their prey. However, they drink water whenever it is available.
- Sand cats are solitary creatures that live alone except during the mating seasons.
- Just like many house cats take hiding their feces seriously, Sand cats do not leave their feces in exposed areas like most other felids.
- They exhibit the typical feline character of being territorial in nature and use claw marks and urine spraying to mark their territories.
- The sand cats dig burrows in the desert sand or make use of abandoned porcupine and fox burrows. They may even live in rodent burrows after enlarging them.
- Like most other cat species, the sand cats remain active at night time.
- During the winter period, they like to bask in the sun all day and become exclusively nocturnal in summer.
- They have hunting and eating habits that are similar to those of wild cats. Sand cats are known to bury the remains of their food in the sand for later consumption.
Sounds and Call
There is nothing strange about the vocalizations made by these cats as they are similar to the vocalizations of the domestic cat species.
Also, Sand Cats make occasionally loud and high-pitched barking vocalizations, primarily to attract mates before their mating season. Hearing is also vital for intraspecific communication.
Sand cats make a characteristic short and rasping bark that is associated with their mating activities
- The sand cats have special adaptive features that help them to survive in the wild:
- Long hairs grow from between the toes of these cats and form a fur cushion over the pads of their foot. This helps to keep their feet insulated when they walk on the hot sand.
- The sand cats also have wide ear canals that enhance their sense of hearing, and that allows them to detect prey even underground.
- These felines also have low set ears that are believed to serve as a shield that protects their inner ears from the wind-blown sand in their natural habitat. This is an adaptive feature that is also helpful for detecting subterranean prey.
- It is almost difficult to follow their tracks because of their small and blunt claws, as well as the fur covering the footpads.
- Sand cats have powerful paws that let them dig fast when they need to catch underground prey.
- Because of their sand-colored fur, they are often tricky to spot in their desert habitat, and that helps them to avoid being preyed on.
For the sand cats, the start of the mating season depends on a variety of factors, such as the weather conditions of their distribution area.
Sand cats living in the Sahara Desert regions have their mating season between the months of January and April. The Sand cats living in Turkmenistan begin their mating season in April, while those from different regions of Pakistan start mating during the autumn season, which is from September through October.
Both the male and female sand cats become reproductively mature at around one year and two months of age. Not much is known about the mating behavior and rituals of these cats, except that they call to attract their mates.
The female sand cats dig a burrow or look for an abandoned one that is large enough for 2 to 4 kittens. One litter of kittens may contain anywhere between 1 to 8 baby sand cats; however, 2 to 4 is the most common among them.
The gestation period of these species can last anywhere between 59 and 66 days. Sand cats usually reproduce once a year, but in some places, Sand Cats may have at least two litters each year.
The baby sand cats are born helpless and blind, with their eyes opening after about two weeks of birth. They gain about 12 pounds of weight daily from birth and begin to walk by the 20th or 21st day.
Sand kittens start to eat solid food after one month and one week, while they become partially independent between 9 weeks and 18 weeks of age.
The life expectancy of sand cats in the wild remains unknown, but, when in captivity, they are known to live for up to thirteen years.
The sand cats have a juvenile mortality rate of about 41% in their natural habitat because of the extreme conditions and several enemies.
Sand Cats do not make good pets as they have an aggressive temperament that makes it quite impossible for them to be domesticated.
Additionally, it is quite challenging to provide for these cats, and a person needs to have extensive training on how to care for wild animals before sand cats can be kept as a pet.
First of all, you should check with your local and state laws to find out if it is legal to have Sand Cats as a pet.
The IUCN has included Sand cats in the “Near Threatened” category. Change of climate, over-hunting, and habitat loss are some of the primary threats to their existence.
Various hunting prohibition laws protect the sand cat populations in places like Algeria, Tunisia, Iran, Israel, Kazakhstan, Mauritania, Niger, and Pakistan. However, in places like Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Mali, there is no legal protection.
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