hear big cats


Female Sand Cat
7/27/00 – 12/8/2015

Arrived at Big Cat Rescue  10/23/00

Pat Quillen of S.O.S. Care sent five Sand Cats to Big Cat Rescue on October 23, 2000. They were born to Pebbles and Papoose who were the offspring of wild caught Sand Cats sent here during Desert Storm for their protection. Most of the known origin Sand Cats in the U.S. are from these imported Founders who produced well at S.O.S. Care.

They have been sent here as genetic back up and will not be bred at Big Cat Rescue unless their offspring with cats unrelated to this group can be returned to the wild. We will not breed for life in cages.

Sand cats are small desert dwelling cats native to northern Africa and the Middle East.

They are frequent victims of the illegal pet trade and during the Gulf War their livelihood and habitats were greatly affected. In an effort to preserve the species, the Saudi government sent eight of these cats to S.O.S. Care, a California-based international cat-conservation organization.

Genie the Sand Cat

Genie the Sand Cat

Genie and four litter mates, descendants of the original group, were sent to Big Cat Rescue as a genetic back-up in case of disaster at S.O.S. Care. Genie lives in a large enclosure with thick foliage.

She is quite shy and the plants in her Cat.a.tat provide lots of spaces for her to conceal herself.

Genie also loves to sleep inside her elevated dens, which are merely window flower boxes, that are hung on the walls of her enclosure. Keepers can tell when she is in one of these dens because her tail will be peeking out over the top of the pot.

In her old age Genie became a very finicky eater, so she was fed 2-3 times a day, but when she stopped eating she was brought into the hospital for diagnostics and closer, more intensive care. Nothing could reverse the ravages of time, and she was the oldest sandcat we ever knew. Genie was euthanized after suffering several seizures, to put her out of her misery.  You can read tributes to Genie the SandCat here:


This video is about Genie’s friend Canyon the Sand Cat



More Cute Sandcat Videos


MORE Pages about & Photos of Genie, the tiny Sand cat:

* Today at Big Cat Rescue – October 3, 2014 – Genie goes to the vet.  There are a LOT of photos on this page. (nothing gross).  There is a really cool photo of the bottom of Genie’s tiny paw so you can see how it is covered with hair and how it compars in size to the end of a human finger.  Check it out:


* Today at Big Cat Rescue – October 2, 2014 – more of photos of the above:

* Walkabout Video – May 3rd, 2014 – Some rare video of Nico the Geoffroy Cat, and Diablo the hybrid, and extremely rare footage of Genie the Sandcat.  King Tut the hybrid chows down on raw meat:

* Happy Sand Cats – Get new sand –

* Today at Big Cat Rescue – January 13th – Lots of phots of the cats including a cute one of Genie and a funny one of Pharaoh:

* Today at Big Cat Rescue – April 25th – LOTS of photos of he various cats including a cute one of Genie:

* Today at Big Cat Rescue – June 30th – Genie the sand cat peeks out of one of her many hidey-holes:

* Today at Big Cat Rescue – Download a FREE iBook or PDF book filled with photos of Canyon & Genie Sand cats:


* Today at Big Cat Rescue August 9th – Genie gets her nails clipped:

* More Sand Cat Videos –

* Today at Big Cat Rescue – February 27, 2013 – Genie & Canyon top 10% in age –

Genie in flower pot



Sand Cat Facts

Sand Cat Facts

Sand Cat


Common Name: Sand Cat
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata (Vertebrata)
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: Felinae (Felis)
Species: margarita
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.

Subspecies: F.m margarita – The Sahara
F.m. thinobia – Turkestan
F.m. scheffeli – Pakistan
F.m. harrisoni – Arabia, Jordan (Pictured on both pages)

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

SandCat.jpg (115839 bytes)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: Habitat degradation is the major threat to the sand cat. Vulnerable arid ecosystems are being rapidly degraded by human settlement and activity, especially livestock grazing (Allan and Warren 1993, Al-Sharhan et al. 2003). The sand cat’s small mammal prey base depends on having adequate vegetation, and may experience large fluctuations due to drought (Sunquist and Sunquist 2002), or declines due to desertification and loss of natural vegetation.

Other localized threats include the introduction of feral and domestic dogs and cats, creating direct competition and through predation and disease transmission (Nowell and Jackson 1996). They also may be killed in traps laid out by inhabitants of oases targeting foxes and jackals or in retaliation for killing their chickens (De Smet 1989; Dragesco-Joffé 1993). There are occasional reports of animals shot in south-east Arabia (M. Strauss pers. comm.)

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.



Sandcats of BCR


Meet our sand cat friends:





hear big cats



Male Sand Cat

DOB 7/27/00

Arrived at Big Cat Rescue  10/23/00

DOD 12/5/14

It is with heavy hearts that we share the news that our beloved sandcat Canyon has died. On December 5th, volunteers reported that he seemed to be having a seizure. Jamie and Carole were immediately called to the scene where staff members were already gathering nets and blankets. Jamie saw that Canyon was on his side, and didn’t appear to be breathing so she ran into his enclosure and began giving him chest compressions. When Carole went to give breaths, she found a chicken neck obstructing his airway and pulled it out.

For about 6-10 minutes Jamie gave Canyon CPR while our vet Dr. Justin Boorstein injected Epinephrine into his heart. CRP continued for another 7-9 minutes, but Canyon was gone.

We have tight control on keys and keeper access to protect the public and the cats. Our policies don’t allow anyone to rush in with Canyon without Jamie or Carole present, because no one would have known that he was choking, rather than having a seizure, until they had their fingers in his mouth.

If there is any silver lining to this, it is that Canyon left us in the sand he loved so much, doing the one thing he loved better than anything else — chomping on a chicken neck. Canyon was 14. We will all miss this feisty little guy so much.

His tribute page is here:

Sand Cat Up Close

Pat Quillen of S.O.S. Care sent five Sand Cats to Big Cat Rescue on October 23, 2000. They were born to Pebbles and Papoose who were the offspring of wild caught Sand Cats sent here during Desert Storm for their protection. Most of the known origin Sand Cats in the U.S. are from these imported Founders who produced well at S.O.S. Care. They have been sent here as genetic back up and will not be bred at Big Cat Rescue unless their offspring with cats unrelated to this group can be returned to the wild. We will not breed for life in cages.

Sand cats are small desert dwelling cats native to northern Africa and the Middle East. They are frequent victims of the illegal pet trade and during the Gulf War their livelihood and habitats were greatly affected. In an effort to preserve the species, the Saudi government sent eight of these cats to S.O.S. Care, a California-based international cat-conservation organization. Canyon and four littermates, descendants of the original group, were sent to Big Cat Rescue as a genetic back-up in case of disaster at S.O.S. Care.

Canyon has a very tall Cat.a.tat that encloses a tree in the center. He loves to climb and spend time in his tree, so keepers placed a den barrel high up in its branches. Canyon can almost always be found sleeping in this secluded space. Canyon lives across the pathway from Cameron the lion, however, he does not seem intimidated by his large neighbor. What he lacks in size he makes up for with boldness. Canyon also loves feeding time and this super tiny cat is a real spitfire when food is involved. When he hears the feeding carts approaching his area he sparks to life and rushes into his feeding lockout to await his meal.

Sand Cats have very sensitive digestive tracts and in the wild would eat prey like lizards and gerbils which have very small flexible bones. Since these little cats would not be able to digest the larger bones in the chicken, that all of the other cats at the sanctuary get, the closest and most economical food source are baby chicks. These arrive frozen from a wholesaler and are thawed before they are given to the Sand Cats. The Sand Cats are also fed a special blended ground diet that has organ meat and vitamins.




More Cute Sandcat Videos


Today at Big Cat Rescue Nov 22

Today at Big Cat Rescue Nov 22

Thanksgiving Big Cat Love Story

Take our poll here about what you love most about cats:


Check Out These Big Cat Thanksgiving E Cards

Check Out Hundreds of These Big Cat Thanksgiving E Cards


Mark your calendars!

Fun Fur All Ball at Skipper’s

Join us for a benefit concert at Skipper’s Smoke House in Tampa on Sunday December 11th. Enjoy musical entertainment from Juanjamon Band, Skull and Bone Band, The Human Condition, and Sunset Bridge while perusing the raffle and auction items, including original paintings created live during the show by local artists.

The Fun Fur All Ball is from 4-9 PM. Tickets are a $10 minimum suggested donation. Check out  Skipper’s facebook page and Like them.

Shere Khan and China Doll the tigers snuggling

Shere Khan and China Doll the tigers snuggling

Beautiful flowers blooming down Easy Street entrance to BCR

Beautiful flowers blooming down Easy Street entrance to BCR

Jamie Veronica lets Windstar the bobcat into his new room addition

Jamie Veronica lets Windstar the bobcat into his new room addition

Rosey recycling elephant ears that were culled for cage painting

Rosie recycling elephant ears that were culled for cage painting

Big Cat Rescue staff photographer out gathering SandCat photos

Big Cat Rescue staff photographer out gathering SandCat photos

Carole Baskin cutting door into Windstar bobcat's new room addition

Carole Baskin cutting door into Windstar bobcat's new room addition

Windstar the bobcat raced in circles around his new Cat-a-tat

Windstar the bobcat raced in circles around his new Cat-a-tat

Regina giving Simba the tigress her evening meds

Regina giving Simba the tigress her evening meds

Alex the tiger enjoying his dinner after a long day of lake gazing

Alex the tiger enjoying his dinner after a long day of lake gazing

Raindance the Bobcat 2011 Nov 22

Raindance the Bobcat 2011 Nov 22

Save Wild Tigers


Zero tolerance is the only way to preserve the last wild tigers


LONDON: The Environmental Investigation Agency today endorses a new petition calling on Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to adopt a zero-tolerance policy on tiger trade.


The petition has been organised by TigerTime, an initiative of the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation which has garnered mass public and celebrity support to raise awareness of the plight of the world’s last remaining wild tigers and campaign to reverse its decline.


The petition urges: “I appeal to Premier Wen Jiabao to send a clear message to his government, calling for an end to all tiger trade within China. This is to include a call for a zero tolerance policy applied to all trade of all parts and derivatives of tiger and other protected Asian big cats, from all sources.”


It has been launched almost a year to the day since Wen Jiabao, at the 2010 International Tiger Conservation Forum in St Petersburg, promised the world his country would “vigorously combat poaching, trade and smuggling of tiger products”.


However, China has refused to answer questions about the implementation of its controversial 2007 Skin Registration Scheme, allowing tiger and leopard skins from ‘legal origins’, including those from captive-bred big cats, to be registered, labelled and sold.


A lack of transparency as to how authorities determine the legality of skins, coupled with inadequate enforcement and growing corruption, is creating a smokescreen for the illegal trade in tiger and leopard skins and derivatives in China.


“EIA has often worked with the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation as a fellow member of the Species Survival Network and is pleased to wholeheartedly endorse its TigerTime petition,” said EIA Lead Campaigner Debbie Banks.


“China has had more than enough time to begin putting its house in order along the lines of Wen Jiabao’s promises in Russia, but instead of shutting down the tiger farms and embracing a zero-tolerance policy on the trade in tiger and big cat skins and derivatives, it instead seems dead set on heading in the wrong direction.”


The TigerTime initiative has secured the support of a large number of household names since launching in June, including Samantha Fox, Sir Paul McCartney, Joanna Lumley, Stephen Fry, Ricky Gervais, Sir Roger Moore, Sir Michael Parkinson, Susan Sarandon, Anjelica Huston, Jeremy Irons, Paula Abdul, Neil Gaiman and

Joan Jett.


The TigerTime ‘Ban the Tiger Trade’ petition can be found at



Interviews, footage and stills are available on request: please contact Debbie Banks, at or telephone 020 7354 7960.





1. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) is a UK-based Non Governmental Organisation and charitable trust (registered charity number 1040615) that investigates and campaigns against a wide range of environmental crimes, including illegal wildlife trade, illegal logging, hazardous waste, and trade in climate and ozone-altering chemicals.


2. The EIA report Enforcement not Extinction: Zero Tolerance on Tiger Trade outlines EIA’s recommendations for urgent actions to reverse the tiger’s decline


3. EIA has written to China seeking clarification over the 2007 Skin Registration Scheme and raised questions about it from the floor at UN meetings, but China has failed to respond. Read our briefings at &


4. The International Tiger Forum in St Petersburg in November 2010 resulted in the adoption of the Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP) and the goal of doubling the wild tiger population by 2022; see


5. It is estimated there are between 3,200-3,500 wild tigers remaining in the world.


6. The Species Survival Network (SSN), founded in 1992, is an international coalition of more than 80 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) committed to the promotion, enhancement and strict enforcement of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Visit the SSN website here



Environmental Investigation Agency

62-63 Upper Street

London N1 0NY


Tel: +44 207 354 7960

Fax: +44 207 354 7961



The County went in this morning and removed all shelters and dismantled feeding stations at Saddle Creek Park. The County has the opportunity to take the most effective and humane action now, but they are not. They have begun their plan to try to starve the cats to death. They have created this problem by not enforcing Parks Ordinance preventing “dumping” of animals and now want to enforce ordinances against citizens being humane to these animals. The bottom line is that removal of the cats or attempted starvation of the cats will not solve the issue. Properly managed TNR programs, like the one being run by Feral Fanciers, will solve the issue at no expense to the taxpayers of Polk County. If you are angry about this now is the time toSPEAK UP. The County will listen to the protests of the citizens more than they are listening to us. Contact the people below and tell them how you feel. Forward this email to others and encourage them to speak up to. THE ONLY WAY TO SAVE THESE CATS IS TO SPEAK UP.
It is time for all of us to contribute our time and voice to helping the cats. TNR IS THE ONLY HUMANE SOLUTION

Let these people know that you want the only effective and humane solution for feral cats in Polk County:
Letter to the
Tom Palmer BlogCat Colonies on Public Lands
Parks and Recreation
Jeff Spence, Director
Phone: 863-534-7377
4177 Ben Durrance Road · Bartow, FL 33830
Michael Callender, Parks and Recreation Manager
Phone: 863-534-4340
General Office: 863-534-4340 · Fax:863-534-7006
515 Boulevard St. · Bartow, FL 33831
County Manager
Jim Freeman, County Manager
Phone: 863-534-6444
County Commissioners:
Bob English, Commissioner
Melony Bell, Commissioner
Edwin V. Smith, Commissioner and Chairman
Todd Dantzler, Commissioner
Sam Johnson, Commissioner and Vice Chairman
ALL: Office Address: 330 W. Church Street, Bartow
Mailing Address: Drawer BC01, P.O. Box 9005, Bartow, Florida 33831-9005
Feral Fanciers, Inc.
PO Box 92330
Lakeland, FL 33804

Ohio zoo staff in UAE to further sand cat breeding program

Cute, but no cuddly kitty

Tom Duralia

Last Updated: October 18. 2009 7:12PM UAE / October 18. 2009 3:12PM GMT

The sand cat, an animal so stealthy it is rarely seen, looks as if it is made to comfort and be comforted; a cat for the lap, not the extremes of a lonely desert. Even its claws are dull.

But dhubs and vipers know better.

First of all, it is unlikely that a dhub lizard finds anything other than another spiny-tail remotely cute. Secondly, the fluffy sand cat, forged on the anvil of desolation, as it were, eats them for breakfast.

Despite a superficial similarity to its domestic cousins, the broad-faced sand cat avoids human contact and is a master at shunning and escaping the attentions of the wider world.

Its extremely furry feet a dense mat of long, wavy hairs sprouting from the underside that almost obscures the foot pads, so suited for movement on the sands and ambushing prey leave tracks that are at best ambiguous and frequently non-existent, while its light sandy-coloured coat is lost against the desert background.

How about spotting one at a water hole? Forget it. The self-reliant sand cat gets all the moisture it needs from the fluid content of its prey.

Stumbling upon one almost never happens. It is a nocturnal cat that burrows and sleeps out of sight during the day. When researchers try to locate one at night by shining spotlights across the sands, hoping to catch the retinal reflections, well, the sand cat simply lowers its eyelids.

In short, in the UAE, as within most of their range, sand cats are rarely spotted by anyone, anywhere, ever.

Like the sand cat, Peter Cunningham, an ecologist, has an abiding interest in spiny-tailed lizards and a thirst for desert solitude, which he seeks out when others of his species have beaten a hasty retreat.

“Most think it is crazy,” he says, “[but] I like to go out in the desert in the summer. There’s nobody else there, and you can see things that you otherwise or normally don’t see, especially reptile-wise.”

Late one morning in July 2001, Mr Cunningham was northeast of Al Ain, busy with the niceties of dhub burrow description, moving from one to the next, painstakingly assessing orientation, size of openings, distances between and sub-surface temperatures.

To get a better view, he headed towards a rise, a calcrete outcrop amid the gravel flats and sand dunes, and caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. Impossibly, it was a sand cat.

“It was quite a shock,” he recalls. “I didn’t expect it, of course; I was focusing on dhubs at the time.”

So, in all probability, was the sand cat. Uncomfortably close at about five metres, the animal retreated a short distance but, instead of fleeing, stopped and studied the intruder.

“I was watching this cat and it was watching me,” Mr Cunningham says. “It seemed unwilling to run away, but then the area was surrounded by open sand and he was in the best place to hide or avoid me at the time.”

The pair spent a magical minute in communion, “the cat probably thinking, ‘A human out at midday? Must be a crazy scientist’”, before disappearing into some cavity in a rocky outcrop.

Mr Cunningham, 44, now working out of the King Khalid Wildlife Research Centre in Saudi Arabia, never saw the cat again, but when he returned to civilisation he discovered his encounter was the first confirmed sighting of a live sand cat in the UAE.

There had been anecdotal reports, a few records of dead animals and some sand cats had shown up in the pet souks, though no one could say exactly where they had come from.

“Everybody said it was ‘the sand towards the south’,” says Mr Cunningham, perhaps the Liwa area, or Umm Al Zamool, the presumed favoured habitat, but nothing specific.

His subsequent discovery of spiny-tail lizard remains strewn about the den entrance was also a bit of a puzzle. The sand cat is supposedly strictly nocturnal, at least when not disturbed, while the dhub is only active during the day.

A wild sand cat caught in a fence in Saudi Arabia, where the National Wildlife Research Centre has recorded a decline in numbers. Courtesy Moayyad Sher Shah

Maybe, speculated Mr Cunningham, there could be some overlap in the summer when the lizards might still be out at dusk or, perhaps, the sand cat gets them from the burrow. “Nobody has actually seen it in action,” he says, though dhub remains have also been recorded in the faeces of sand cats in Israel.

Dhubs aside, the sand cat’s menu is most likely to feature insects, rodents and small lizards. More famously, though, one of the animals was observed successfully taking on and eating a sand viper in northern Africa.

The cat was apparently so engrossed in the process, says Mr Cunningham, that it paid no heed to the nearby onlookers and, once it had dispatched the snake, tucked in to its hard-earned meal.

Usually, the sand cat is likely to bat its prey silly with those cute paws before delivering the coup de grâce of a killing bite, but it is the animal’s unusually and wonderfully wide head and well-spaced ears that may be the real means for bringing in its sometimes subterranean meals.

That broad head houses ear architecture that differs significantly from that of other small cats, allowing it to hear sounds not only at greater distances but also at a greater range of frequencies, meaning that a gerbil’s “ahem” and the scrape of a sand skink will not go unnoticed.

At just 27, Moayyad Sher Shah is one of the handful of people in the world who can boast more than one wild sand cat experience.

A field researcher with the National Wildlife Research Centre (NWRC) in the Saudi city of Taif, he has been conducting seasonal carnivore trapping in the protected areas of central Saudi Arabia since 2001 and during that time has trapped and released 56 sand cats.

While that may seem a high number for a supposed phantom, Mr Sher Shah has nevertheless documented a precipitous drop in numbers in the past few years. This year, he has not seen any and the year before he caught only a handful.

The culprits, in the estimation of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which lists the sand cat as “near threatened”, are the degradation and loss of habitat and the concomitant reduction in prey.

Mr Sher Shah suspects the situation is the same in the UAE, and Mr Cunningham agrees. Sand cats “don’t like any activity or disturbance and they seem to move away from human settlements; now that people are going in and creating these camel farms all over the show with lots of activity, and all those in the dunes, that’s quite disturbing to the sand cats. They would move away from those areas,” he says.

And they are capable of moving great distances, says Mr Sher Shah, who has played a lead role in ecological studies of the sand cat initiated by the NWRC in 2004.

Tracking made possible by radio collars revealed that cats regularly travelled five or six kilometres a night in search of prey, and doubled that distance when hunting over degraded or over-grazed areas. The home ranges of seven collared cats came in between 20 and 51 square kilometres.

Mr Sher Shah discovered that in the heat of summer, sand cats rest in dens during the day, but will not usually return to the same den or burrow two days in a row. They dig their simple dens quickly and efficiently, but in winter they tend to lie under a bush or other available shade rather than retreating underground.

Mr Sher Shah and Mr Cunningham both believe the reason so few have been sighted in the UAE is partly because no one has looked seriously, but also because of a naturally low density. The numbers are likely to get lower as habitats are disturbed, combined with the remoteness of their preferred ranges and their penchant for secrecy.

While chances of seeing the sand cat in the wild are practically nil, you would be hard-pressed to miss them at the Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort, where the population of 32 practically equals the total number of captive sand cats in the whole of North America.

And, if all goes according to plan and Farshid Mehrdadfar, the park’s manager of animal collections, has his fingers crossed they may eclipse that total within the next few months.

For the past two weeks, researchers affiliated with the Cincinnati Zoo have been on site at the park, consummating, in more ways than one, a collaborative project concerning the use of assisted reproductive technologies in captive sand cats.

According to one of the principal researchers, Dr Jason Herrick, an assistant professor in veterinary biosciences at the University of Illinois and a collaborator with the Cincinnati Zoo research team since 2004, the goal is to use techniques such as artificial insemination, in vitro fertilisation and embryo transfer to help manage and enrich the genetic variability in captive sand cat populations.

“These techniques will allow us to produce offspring in pairs that cannot, or will not, breed naturally,” he says. “Similarly, we can transport frozen sperm and/or embryos between different zoos, or different countries, without having to transport the animals themselves.”

Recently, Dr Herrick and Dr William Swanson, the director of research at the Cincinnati Zoo, completed a two-year study of captive sand cats that involved characterising their basic reproductive traits and developing robust methods for sperm cryopreservation and in vitro fertilisation. The obvious next step, though not a small one, was to test those methods by attempting to produce some kittens.

Last week in Al Ain, says Mr Mehrdadfar, fresh sperm and eggs collected from carefully selected cats were combined, in vitro, to produce sand cat embryos. The embryos were then transferred into four host cats that had recorded successful pregnancies in the past, with other embryos frozen for later use with captive cats in the US.

“If one of these cats goes through pregnancy and pops out kittens I’m going to be dancing in the square,” says Mr Mehrdadfar. Even if he is denied his dance, they will persevere with their commitment to the project and the species: “We’re not going to just stop and shy away.”

This, he says, “is the very first time this has been done”, and the techniques they are developing hold promise not only for inter-zoo gene transfers, but also the potential for harvesting gametes directly from wild populations without having to take the animals into a captive setting.

Assisted reproductive technologies might also help get around the thorny problem of mate selection when computer and committee suggestions go unheeded by the felines involved.

Captive populations, explains Dr Herrick, “are managed to maintain genetic diversity, which may not go well with the animal’s preferences in a mate.

“Just because the male is genetically valuable and mating would be great for the population doesn’t necessarily mean the female is going to think he is the sand cat version of Brad Pitt.”

* The National


Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at