Tuesday 2 May 2023

Sand cat may be more endangered than people think

The popular sand cat may be more endangered than people think. A study completed fairly recently in southern Morocco discovered that sand cats have much larger home ranges than previously thought. And they travel far greater distances during the night than previously believed.

For example, one male cat that they tracked over a year covered 232.4 km². In all, the study radio tracked 22 individuals.

One individual travelled over 1758 km² (679 mi²) in just over six months. The sand cat's home range is similar if not greater than those of the big cats such as the jaguar and leopard. And certainly, they travel the most of any small cat and have the largest home ranges of all the small cats.

Sand cat
Image: MikeB (copyright protected).

Implications for conservation

What does this mean in terms of conservation? Well, the people in charge of assessing the vulnerability of flora and fauna including the small wild cat species, estimate the population sizes of these cats. They have to estimate them because they're very hard to count. This particularly applies to the sand cat for the reason as stated that they are spread out over a very large area and are secretive.

And one way they can estimate numbers is to estimate their density in a certain area. This means that they estimate how many cats there are in a certain area within their distribution. If that estimate is incorrect and they, for example, believe that there are more cats than there really are over a set area, they will then have an incorrect estimation of the entire population size of that species.

And this recent research indicates that they are spread out, as mentioned, far more than they thought and therefore their density is far lower than they thought. This should lead to a re-evaluation of the population size of the sand cat across the planet and in turn this may lead to a re-evaluation of their vulnerability to extinction in the wild by the IUCN Red List experts who I have difficult trusting!

Underestimates as to vulnerability

Incidentally, on a separate topic, I have always thought that the IUCN Red List underestimate, in general terms, the vulnerability of the wild cat species. And I have wondered whether they are being lobbied by the sport hunters for this reason. That is highly speculative but a reasonable suggestion. 

There is in fact some evidence that they are being pressured by people whose interest is against the conservation of animals because they want the freedom to use and abuse those animals and if they are big enough and interesting enough to shoot them for pleasure (sport hunting).

And there is a lot of money in sport hunting. It is normally the wealthy who engage in it and they can apply pressure to conservationists in various ways through their associations and clubs.

At the moment the sand cat is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List people. As the classification suggests, the conservationists are unconcerned about this small cat species becoming extinct. 

They don't regard the species as vulnerable in the wild. But they could be wrong. 

Finally, the sand cat does very badly in captivity because they become ill very quickly. Therefore, humankind cannot fall back on zoo sand cats in order to save the species if things get very bad.

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