Cat - Made for the desert
As its name implies, the sand
cat is commonly found in sandy desert areas in the arid
countries of Northern Africa, Arabia and parts of Central
Asia and Pakistan. They can be difficult to study in the
wild. Its feet and pads are covered with long hair which
protect them from the heat of the desert surface and give it
extra support needed in moving across the soft, shifting
sands. These foot coverings allow them to walk on sand
without sinking and leaving their footprints nearly
invisible. These long tufts of hair growing between toes
help it to cross soft sand and also protect the naked foot
pads from the hot desert surface in summer. They have
learned to crouch down and shut their eyes when a light is
shone on them, which prevents the light from reflecting
their eyes for tracking. That combined with their protective
coat color makes them blend right into their habitat. They
also bury all of their excrement making it impossible to
find and analyze so their diet can be studied.
Slightly smaller than domestic cats, these guys have short
legs, wide heads with large, tapered ears and large,
forward-placed eyes. The coat varies in color from grey to
sandy yellow and is marked with indistinct striped markings.
The legs are often banded with horizontal dark stripes.
Characteristic dark reddish brown markings appear on the
cheeks and to the side of the eyes as well as covering the
rear of the ears - the chin and throat of the sand cat are
white. The tip of the back of its ears is black and has
black stripes on its elbows and dark rings at the end of its
tail which ends with a black tip.
Nocturnal and crepuscular hunters of small mammals, birds,
insects and reptiles, sand cats slink up to their prey
silently, low to the ground. Their strategy is to get as
close to the prey as possible without being seen or heard
before striking. Their extremely sharp teeth and claws are
ideal for grabbing and capturing prey.
In the wild it has been observed that the young sand cat
develops rapidly and become independent at a relatively
early age. In the spring after a 60-day gestation, sand cats
give birth to two to four kittens but as many as 8 have been
observed. Young offspring have distinctive markings which
fade as they mature. They instinctively dig in the sand
at five weeks old, and are able to fend for themselves by
fall when they leave their families.
The most serious threat to small cats is habitat
destruction. Due to the remoteness of much
habitat, there are conflicting reports as to the exact
population status of the animal. It is quite possible that
there are many more than current estimates show
and recently the three sub-species found in parts of its
range excluding Pakistan have been re-classified as Least
Concern in the Red List of Endangered Species. The Pakistan
sand cat is now listed as Near Threatened.