The sand cat (Felis margarita), or desert cat, is a small wild cat living in the desert areas of Africa. This cat belongs to the genus Felis. Victor Loche was the first to describe the sand cat in 1858 from a specimen found in the Sahara.
The sand cat is the smallest species of cat living in Arabia. It measures between 47 and 59 cm long (head-body), 25 cm high for a weight ranging from 1.5 to 3.5 kg. The tail measures between 27 and 35 cm long.
This feline is well adapted to its arid desert habitat. His extremely sensitive ears are large and triangular. They are able to detect the slightest sound of animals moving above and below the soil surface. Its pads are covered with thick hairs, which allows it to move easily and quickly on the hot sand in its desert environment, and isolates them from the heat.
The fur of the sand cat varies from yellowish brown to dull gray. The fur has wave lines on its limbs and several black rings near the tip of its black tail. A series of dark red lines extend from the corner of the eye to the cheeks. The visible patterns on the coat vary between the six existing subspecies.
The sand cat lives in northern Africa, across the Arabian Peninsula, and south-west of central Asia. Due to its specific habitat conditions, it has an uneven distribution within its area. This species occurs in 3 distinct areas of the world: the Sahara Desert of Africa in the countries of Algeria, Niger and Morocco, across the Arabian Peninsula, and parts of Central Asia, including Turkmenistan, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan
The sand cat is one of the only cat species found mainly in the true desert. Its habitat is found in stony and sandy deserts with an arid climate, especially among sparse vegetation.
The sand cat is a nocturnal predator whose diet consists mainly of rodents, lizards, insects, gerbils and gerbils.
This species is also known to be a very effective snake hunter, even attacking venomous vipers. They are considered opportunists who take what they can find in their arid habitat. Prey provides the necessary water that it needs to survive in places where there is little water.
The captive sand cat breeds several times a year. In the wild, the breeding seasons depend on the place. In the deserts of the Sahara, the breeding season starts in January and ends in April. In Turkmenistan, the season begins during the month of April. In Pakistan, the breeding season lasts from September to October. Differences may be due to climate or availability of resources.
After a gestation period estimated at between 59 and 63 days, the female gives birth to a litter of 2 to 4 kittens. Although they will not reach sexual maturity before the age of 9 to 14 months, they are already independent at 6 or 8 months. This rapid maturity is an advantageous trait in their hostile environment.
The life expectancy of the captive sable cat is 14 years. In the wild, the life span is about 13 years, but the mortality rate of juveniles is high.
The sand cat is not a good climber, as this ability serves him very little. To escape predators or heat, he digs deep holes in the sand. He is known to lie on his back outside his burrow to evacuate internal heat. Burrows are shared with other individuals.
The sand cat is usually nocturnal, although the subspecies that lives in Pakistan is nocturnal in summer and active at dawn and dusk in winter.
Since there is very little standing water available in the sand cat habitat, it must obtain all the water contained in their prey, in a manner similar to the South African Pied Cat.
The main threats facing sand cats are the destruction of their habitat by humans and the decline of their prey populations. Sport hunting also causes damage to the people because it likes to sunbathe on the rocks during the day and is not shy, which makes them easy prey.
The docility of the sand cat made it a domestic animal during the 1960s. Individuals died in captivity. Due to the uncontrolled nature of this trade, this has caused a drastic decline in populations. Other localized threats include the introduction of wild and domestic cats and dogs, which can compete and transmit diseases.
The predators of the sand cat are snakes, jackals and owls.