It’s known as the “Sand Cat”, “Sand Dune Cat”, or more formally as Felis margarita, which makes perfect sense to me, being that one may want a margarita after surviving such harsh desert conditions. But, anywho, this cat is made to survive in areas that are too hot, too dry, and simply too inhospitable for most other creatures, such as the Sahara, Arabian Desert, and deserts of Iran and Pakistan. The Sand Cat can survive in temperatures ranging between -5 degrees C (23 F) to 52 degrees C (126 F). But how does such a little furry creature do it?
It’s size allows it to conserve energy, so it doesn’t require much food to survive. As for water: they drink when they can, but they can survive mainly by using the water found in their food. Also, their nephrons (structures within the kidney used to regulate osmolarity in the body) are shorter so that they conserve water. They also protect themselves from the harsh living conditions by burrowing.
Unlike most cats, the Sand Cat has fur over their foot pads to a) protect their paws from the hot sand; b) to mask their footprints in the sand so that they are not easy to track. The claws on their hind feet are considerably more blunt than their front paws to also mask their footprints. These footprints need to be hidden from wolves, snakes, birds of prey, and HUMANS, who often trap and kill them for their beautiful sandy fur!
Being that food is scarce, the predatory Sand Cat has evolved very large ears and prominent auditory bullae to better note vibrations in the sand in order to successfully kill their prey, which consists of lizards, birds, insects, and rodents. Their head is wider than most small cats of its size, perhaps another feature to assist in optimizing sound perception.
Sand Cats are solitary creatures that only interact with one another during mating season, during which they communicate with scent, claw markings, urinating, and vocalizing with high-pitched calls. The estrual cycle of the Sand Cat lasts 5-6 days, and upon successful mating, ~3 kittens are born usually between April and May. In fact, some regions have Sand Cats that have two litters per year. The kittens are dependent upon the mother for food and protection until the end of the first year, but once they leave “the burrow”, they reach sexual maturity quickly thereafter.
Although small and seemingly housecat-like, Sand Cats are NOT domestic. It it unknown how many Sand Cats exist in the wild because of the difficulty counting each one entails (because, as you recall from above, they are very rarely ever found together). It is known, though, that their population is decreasing. Thus conservation efforts are up!
The Jerusalem Zoo in Israel used funds from the Zoo’s Professor Shulov Fund for the Study of Animals in Captivity to create an enclosure in Arava Desert in order to re-establish Sand Cats in Israel and to use the enclosure to conserve other endangered species of the desert.
They are unique creatures with such a fascinating method of survival. Thank goodness organizations such as the Jerusalem Zoo in Israel are keeping them free and wild!