Thursday 14 February 2008

Sand Cat

The sand Cat. This is a thumbnail. Photo by carinemily (Flickr - opens new window). As can be seen this is a small cat averaging 6lbs in weight, a little under the average of domestic cats I would have thought (see Largest Domestic Cat Breed (new window) for size comparisons)

The scientific name for this small wildcat is Felis margarita and four (src: IUCN) subspecies have been “classically” described. Other sources say that there are 6 sub species:
  1. Felis margarita margarita, Sahara
  2. Felis margarita airensis
  3. Felis margarita harrisoni, Arabia
  4. Felis margarita meinertzhageni
  5. Felis margarita thinobia, Iran
  6. Felis margarita scheffeli, (Pakistan Sand Cat) Pakistan

IUCN Assessment

The IUCN Red List for Threatened Species™ classify this cat NT – Near Threatened - “species or lower taxa that may be considered threatened with extinction in the near future, although it does not currently qualify for the threatened status. As such the IUCN (new window) notes the importance of re-evaluating Near Threatened taxa often or at appropriate intervals.” (src: Wikipedia®). The listing of Near Threatened would seem to be under review as further research may indicate a different classification. Further research is needed generally.
The assessment is based on these findings:
  • Described as rare by experts
  • Low population (effectively less than 10,000) and a possible decline in numbers projected of more than 30%. The trend however is unknown.
  • Fragmented range
  • Degradation of desert habitat
  • Decline in prey

Range, Habitat & Ecology

The Sand Cat is able to survive in temperatures ranging from −5 °C to 52 °C (126 °F). The Sand cat is found in the following countries:
Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Islamic Republic of, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syrian Arab Republic, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Western Sahara, Yemen.
Presence uncertain: Afghanistan, Chad, Iraq, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Mali, Qatar, Senegal, Sudan, Tunisia.
The map was made by me from a blank world map made by User:Vardion and adapted by User:E Pluribus Anthony for Wikipedia®. This is permitted under under Wikimedia® creative commons license = Attribution-ShareAlike License. The source is IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ . This is a fairly rough map but gives a good idea of the range. To get a feel for what the landscape is like on the ground the picture below is of the Caspian sea coast from Turkmenbashi headland, Turkmenistan. The picture is a thumbnail and is by Citt (Flickr - new window):
And this is a Google map of the area:

View Larger Map
Note the sandy desert terrain and sparse vegetation where they feed on small rodent prey. They burrow so the soil cannot be compacted. They have acute hearing, greater in range and sensitivity to the domestic cat which is used to hunt nocturnally. Other prey includes:
  • Spiny Mice
  • Gerbils
  • Jerboas
  • Small birds (Desert Lark)
  • Desert Monitor
  • Fringe-toed lizards
  • Sandfish
  • Short-fingered Gecko
  • Horned and Sand vipers
  • Arabian toad-head lizards
  • Insects
The Sand Cat is well adapted to desert life being able to survive off the body fluids of prey instead of drinking water. As mentioned, they are nocturnal hunters with a large range of 16 km² to 40 km² .

RELATED: How do sand cats adapt to their environment?

Threats and Conservation

  • habitat loss and degradation through human activity e.g. livestock grazing.
  • drought affecting vegetation
  • feral and domestic dogs and cats competing and disease
  • traps to protect livestock
  • shot (SE Arabia)
  • Included on CITES Appendix II – “lists species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled” (src: CITES)
  • Hunting is banned in Niger, Pakistan, Tunisia, Algeria, Iran, Israel, Kazakhstan and Mauritania.
  • Protected areas e.g. Tassili n’ Ajjer and Ahaggar National Parks (Algeria) and Moteh and Touran protected areas (Iran).

This is an early post to which I added the above text etc....

Sand cat copyright Nick Lawes

The Sand Cat looks very much like a domestic cat and there is good evidence, apparently, to suggest that this small wild cat was domesticated by the ancient Egyptians. I wonder, as this wildcat looks so like a domestic cat and has a weight and size very similar to a domestic cat, if it was in fact a domestic cat at one stage. If not, one can very much see in this cat how the wild cat came in from the wild some 9,000 years ago and became domesticated. It would be quite a small step.

RELATED: Click for a a range of articles on the sand cat that might interest you.

Another cat with acute hearing (due in part to very large ear flaps) designed to hear rodents underground is the Serval. The Serval is bred with a domestic cat (Bengal) to produce the Savannah, a majestic cat. The Serval although wild is tamed to be a domestic cat, albeit rarely and under carefully controlled conditions.

Other wild cats that are important to us and which look like domestic cats are the American Bobcat and Scottish Wildcat. Both are bigger than the Sand cat however.



  1. a lot of the cats you post are not females, they are males, and as thus not a "she".

  2. Hi, yes. I hate using "it" and I can't guarantee getting the sex right! Still I will probably adjust things over time. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Is this animal bred in captivity? Such a beautiful animal.


  5. I've never seen that cat. Doesn't even look like cat. But nice )

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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