Sand dune cat, Sahara cat
The desert is where one of the world’s most interesting and formidable cats lives, the Sand cat. 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 fur is generally a pale sandy color, usually with a white belly. 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.
The Sand cat lives in northern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and central and south-west Asia. It occurs in arid sandy and stony deserts, particularly among sparse vegetation.
Habits and lifestyle
Sand cats are solitary except for during the mating season. They communicate by means of claw and scent marks on objects within their range. 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. They sometimes lie outside their burrows on their backs to release internal heat. They share their burrows with other individuals, but not at the same time. Sand cats are usually nocturnal, hunting at night during the cooler times. When it gets dark they start to hunt, continuing until dawn. In one night they will sometimes travel about 10 km (over 6 miles). These cats communicate with vocalizations that sound like those of domestic cats but they also make high-pitched loud barking sounds, particularly when looking for a mate.
destruction (wild cats), clowder, clutter, pounce
Diet and nutrition
Sand cats eat rodents, birds, hares, reptiles, and insects. They use the moisture from their food to enable them to survive with no additional water, or very little.
Sand cats are very shy and rare, so not much is known about their mating system. Living solitary lives except during the breeding season may mean that these cats are polygynous. 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. Kittens grow fast and are nearly fully grown at five months old. They become completely independent at six to eight months of age, when they already are eating some solid food. They are sexually mature at 9 - 14 months old.
January-April (Sahara), April (Turkmenistan), September-October (Pakistan)
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. Another threat is the introduction of domestic and feral cats and dogs, which may prey upon, compete with, or transmit diseases to the Sand cat.
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. It is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the list of threatened species.
Fun facts for kids
- 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.
- Sand cats’ footprints don’t remain in the sand, due to their furry paws.
- The Sand cat hides leftover food in the sand.
- Sand cats live in temperatures that sometimes rise to more than 40°C (104°F).
- This animal’s sand colored coat is hard to see against dry bushes and sand, and acts as protection for it.
- The cat’s large ears help to provide it with excellent hearing. Their “pinnae” or “ear flaps” allow it to hear so well it can detect the vibrations of prey on the ground.
- When walking, the Sand cat keeps close to the ground. Probably it feels safer moving low down because there are not many objects to hide behind. Despite moving in this strange way, the sand cat can run very quickly when it needs to.