Extensive Study Of Tiny Moroccan Sand Cats Reveals New Behaviors And May Sound Conservation Alarm

Sand cats (felis margarita) are extraordinary They are one of the smallest cats, under 8 pounds, the only cat living exclusively in desert and one of the least studied (partly because of where they live.) Now tiny Moroccan sand cats have been the subject of a recent study. The results have wide implications.

Sand cats are very small but incredible hunters. They have short legs and wide heads. Their hearing is sharp and key to hunting techniques. Tiny Moroccan sand cats have been the subject of a recent study.

The study was conducted by Gregory Breton of Panthera France and reported in TreeHugger. Breton is the managing director of Panthera France. In addition has been studying the small cats since 2015. Panthera was founded in 2006 and is active around the world. Panthera is dedicated solely to the conservation of the approximately 40 species of wildcats on earth. Breton was assisted by the Rabat, Morocco Zoo and the

Cologne,Germany Zoo. The Cologne Zoo is the third oldest in Germany not to mention its activity in preservation efforts.

There are at least two eye-opening discoveries in the recent report. First, the tiny Moroccan sand cats have much larger ranges than previously believed. If the findings are borne out the range of a sand cat could equal that of a leopard. Leopards can range between 10 and 100 square kilometers .This has major implications. If the ranges are very large there may be many fewer cats than thought. That may require them to be moved from “least concern” to “near threatened” on the IUCN Red List. That would lead to more concervation attention, it is hoped. Breton said one of the several dozen tracked cats travelled 1,000 kilometers duing the study. The entire study lasted from 2015 to 2019 and involved capturing, collaring and tracking the elusive cats. Some conservation attention is already underway. The Kingdom of Jordan has identified the cats as a species in intends to protect.

A Sahara horned viper (Cerastes cerastes). Sand cats are fearless snake hunters and often kill and eat poisonous snakes. Sometimes they fall victim.

Second, the study appeared to show very little fighting among the cats. That suggests they are more willing to share their territory than are other cats. The large somewhat nomadic home range and the lack of scars suggests they are tolerant of each other. They may not protect defined home ranges as other cats do. Instead, they may follow prey and rainfall,

Although the land is arid, it is full of life. Breton said. “… Though the flat, arid land may sometimes look bleak and barren, it is alive with incredible wildlife including poisonous snakes, golden eagles, African golden wolves and African wildcats.”

Sand cats live in the Sahara Desert, the Arabian Peninsula and Central Asia. Temperatures range from over 100 degrees F to about 31 F at night. According to the Smithsonian National Zoo the cats survive the extremes by burrowing and hiding in crevices and sparse vegetation. These do not do particularly well in captivity. The arid nature of the landscape means the small hunters must be maintained at a specific humidity level. Captive cats are prone to lung infections.

close up photography of owl
Large owls like the Pharoah eagle owl (Bubo ascalaphus) are threats from the sky. Photo by Jean van der Meulen on Pexels.com

As for food Smithsonian said:

“Sand cats eat primarily small rodents, occasionally hares, birds, spiders, insects and reptiles. They are fearless snake hunters—their prey can include venomous vipers and other snakes. Living in a relatively desolate habitat, sand cats are opportunistic feeders out of necessity. Like many desert-dwelling species, sand cats can survive without drinking water for weeks at a time. They will instead obtain any moisture they need from their prey.

Sand cats hunt by skulking close to the ground and using their enhanced sense of hearing to detect prey. Sounds of a potential meal burrowing underneath the ground trigger sand cats to begin digging rapidly to expose and capture prey. Upon capture, they may cover its kill and return later to feed.”

brown and white mouse on persons hand
Gerbils (gerbillus gerbillus) various mice and jerboas (Dipodidae) are on the menu, Photo by Татьяна Угрюмова on Pexels.com identified as a gerbil

Published by ursusrising

long time writer and editor living in Los Angeles

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