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Sand Cat - Felis margarita

By: C.M.Shorter

True desert dwellers, the Sand Cat makes its home from northern Africa to southwest Asia and is commonly known by names depicting its terrain including the Sahara Cat and the Sand Dune Cat. Their pale sandy coat color provides excellent camouflage for a desert animal. Their head is very broad with large, forward set eyes and its ears are large and tapered being especially adapted to hear in an environment with a scarcity of prey. Through our TigerHomes Wild Cat Series we have seen other instances where nature has given animals special ear features suited to their particular habitat for survival as with the Caracal, Lynx and Serval.
Sand Cat
Sand Cat
Pictures of Sand Cats

The Sand Cat's face is marked with reddish color stripes extending outward horizontally from the outer corner of each eye. Ears are colored this same shade of red on the backsides and limbs are marked with reddish stripes. The muzzle, under chin area and undersides are whitish in color. They have evolved with a very thick coat to serve as an insulator against both the intense heat and cold of the desert and are small in stature weighing only 4 to 8 lbs.

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Sand cats are closely related to the European Wildcat and show a preference for rugged terrain of sand and stone taking shelter in caves and hollows and under cover of bush when available. These little guys can dig! They use those broad ears to listen for the squeaks of prey and waste no time finding their meal. They survive eating prey of small mammals including gerbils, sand voles, hares, birds, reptiles, spiders and insects from which they obtain almost all of their moisture requirements. They are threatened by poisonous snakes, jackals and large owls. Sand Cats will hunt snakes and are adept at hunting the horned and sand vipers which frequent the same territory often making a kill and returning later to devour the feast. They dig shallow dens in the dune sand and will share resting spots with their species but not usually at the same time. The Sand Cat is a nocturnal predator and moves about and hunts at night to avoid the tremendous heat of the desert day.

Sand Cats have fur on the soles of their feet to protect them from the hot sand. These same pads make tracks that are nearly invisible in the sand making them difficult to track and study in the wild. Very solitary by nature, with a low population, Sand Cat's make use of vocalizations to find mates and locate each other over vast distances. Ancient tradition holds the belief that the Sand Cats were companion to the prophet Mohammed and his daughter. This traditional respect for the Sand Cat still offers it protection as modern day farmers will not retaliate for their taking of domestic poultry. Although habitat loss here is not severe, the Sand Cat is still hunted for its pelt and is offered only partial protection over much of its range. Unfortunately, there are those who still like to hunt just for the sport of hitting a moving target and Sand Cats are often the intended victims with over 18 countries allowing hunting. Only the Pakistan subspecies is placed on CITES Appendix I, with all other Sand Cat subspecies listed on CITES Appendix II.

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Scientific Name: Felis margarita
Common Name(s): Sand Cat, Sahara Cat, Sand Dune Cat
Range: Northern Africa to southwest Asia
Average Weight: 2 - 3.4kg (4 - 8 lbs)
Length: 73 - 91cm (29 - 36")
Diet: Carnivorous. Small mammals including gerbils, sand voles, hares, birds, reptiles, spiders, insects and domestic poultry.
Gestation Period: 60 68 Days
Cub Maturity: 4 - 5 Months
Cubs Per Litter: 1 - 5 Kittens
Lifespan: 8 - 10 years. Captive individuals have been recorded to live up to 13 years.
Predators: Man - Hunting & Poaching, venomous snakes, jackals, large owls.
Social Structure: Solitary
Territory Size: 15-20km (8-11 miles)
Conservation Status: Pakistani subspecies only placed on CITES Appendix I. All other subspecies placed on CITES Appendix II.

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