These are the cutest and smallest of
the wild cats. Wonder if you caught one as a tiny kitten if you could
Blink and you’ll miss it. The sand cat is a
shy and secretive animal only seen in the desert at night
It’s a nocturnal hunter perfectly adapted to
its desert home. It doesn’t need to drink water as it can get all it needs from
the small birds, reptiles and mammals that are its prey. Special hairs in its
ears and on its paws keep the sand out.
Despite its wide distribution across the
deserts of North Africa, Arabia and Central Asia, little is known about this
Lack of records and difficulty in spotting it
means we don’t even know how well it is faring. Sand cats are listed as “near
threatened” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red
list and as endangered in the United Arab Emirates, where the Al Ain Zoo is a
hotspot for captive breeding programmes to try to conserve the species.
In western UAE, the cat has only been
documented in the wild anecdotally – and even such records date to 10 years or
n 2015, Shakeel Ahmed, an assistant scientist
at The Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) led a team studying the animals and
plants of the Baynouna – a protected area in Abu Dhabi. They baited camera traps
with cat food over several months and eventually managed to get 46 photos, which
the team later identified as being of three individuals. Sightings were usually
late on moonlit nights and at cooler times, suggesting the cats prefer medium to
low temperatures of between 11 and 28 °C. Their habitat was in sparsely
vegetated sand dunes.
The team also set traps for small animals, and
caught Cheeseman’s gerbils and the lesser jerboa. Other sightings on the camera
included the urchin beetle, and reptiles such as Arabian sand skink and gecko.
All these mean there is plenty of food available in the region for the sand
The team hopes this information will help
inform future conservation strategies. For example, it could be useful for work
comparing the relatedness of this population to those in neighbouring Oman and
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