Sand Cat Facts
Common Name: Sand Cat
Phylum: Chordata (Vertebrata)
Genus: Felinae (Felis)
Misc: This is one of the more difficult cats to study in the wild. Their foot coverings allow them to walk on sand without sinking, leaving their footprints nearly invisible. 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.
Size and Appearance: Sand Cats weigh in at 4-8 pounds and reach lengths of 29-36 inches, and heights of 10-12 inches. It has a dense soft fur that is a pale sand or gray color above and paler underneath. It has large ears and a broad head, and a reddish streak that runs from its eyes across its cheeks. The ears are reddish-brown and black-tipped. There are faint stripes running down the flanks and black bands running around the tops of the front legs. The tail has 2-3 black rings towards its black tip. The feet are covered with a thick layer of wiry black hair, which insulates the footpads against extremes of heat and cold, and allows for easier movement through the sand. They are prolific diggers, and their claws are not very sharp for lack of places to sharpen them in the desert.
Habitat: Sandy and stony deserts.
Distribution: From the Sahara through the Middle East to Turkestan.
Reproduction and Offspring: These cats have been reported to have 2 litters per year in parts of their territory in both March-April, and again in October. Gestation is 59-63 days, after which females produce a litter of 2-4 kittens. At birth, the newborns weigh approximately 1.5-2 ounces, and will gain about 12 grams per day. Their eyes will normally be open by the 14th day, and they will begin to walk by the 21st day. They begin to take solid food at 5 weeks and become independent by 3-4 months. They reach sexual maturity around 10-12 months.
In captivity, they have lived up to 13 years, but have a high juvenile mortality rate (41%).
Social System and Communication: Solitary.
Because their populations are so few, they have a loud mating call, which resembles the barking of a small dog. Their other vocalizations include meowing, growling, hissing, spitting, screaming and purring. Hear our purrs, hisses, snarls, calls, and growl sounds HERE
Hunting and Diet: Primarily nocturnal, they hunt by digging. Their highly developed hearing allows the to locate prey which is not only sparsely distributed, but underground as well. Their primary diet consists of 3 species of gerbils. It also includes birds, reptiles and arthropods. They are also known for being snake hunters, which they kill with a rapid blow to the head that stuns, and then administer the death bite to the neck. Sand Cats will also cover large kills with sand and return later to feed.
Principal Threats: This is one of the only cats that doesn’t face habitat degradation with its preferred habitat being the desert. Because the religious belief about this cat is that it was the companion of the Prophet Mohammed, they are not hunted as livestock raiders when they kill chickens. Sadly, this little cat still faces the threat of being collected for the pet trade, or for being hunted for sport while they are laying out sunning themselves. It is unknown at this time to what extent, if any, the fires and bombs of the Gulf War affected the Sand Cat population.
Status: CITES: Appendix II (except F.m. scheffeli which is on Appendix I). IUCN: Insufficiently known (F.m. scheffeli is classified Endangered).
Felid TAG recommendation: Sand cat (Felis margarita). Sand cats have a long history of living in North American zoos, but have been poorly managed. Two populations exist, one that is hybridized and another derived from an Israeli population. The TAG recommends an SSP with a target population of 80 individuals, all to consist of F. m. harrisoni, the race from the Arabian peninsula. The American SSP and European EEP have joined forces in their breeding plans as neither continent has enough diversity to sustain their populations.
How rare is this cat? The International Species Information Service lists 116 worldwide, with 36 being in the U.S.
Information reprinted With Permission from the IUCN Wild Cats Book.
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