Rare Arabian sand cat spotted for the first time in 10 years
Blink and you'll miss them. The sand cat is a shy and secretive animal only seen in the desert at night.
WikiMedia Commons/Payman sazesh
Sand cats are wild feline natives to desert areas in North Africa, Arabia, Central Asia, and Pakistan. They're curious creatures, as they more closely resemble domestic house cats than they do other wild cats.
Little is known about this elusive species.
“There’s an absence of scientists working on sand cats and very few assessments are being made to assess the behaviour, population and status of the species,” says John Newby of the Sahara Conservation Fund.
Lack of records and difficulty in spotting it means we don’t even know how well it is faring. Sand cats are listed as “near threatened” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list and as endangered in the United Arab Emirates, where the Al Ain Zoo is a hotspot for captive breeding programmes to try to conserve the species.
It's been 10 years since one was spotted and recorded in western UAE.
Mike Lane/Alamy Stock Photo
That was until during a 2015 camera trap survey, and subsequent published study, by scientist Shakeel Ahmed, of The Environment Agency, resulted in dozens of photographs of three individuals.
"In 2015, Shakeel Ahmed, an assistant scientist at The Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) led a team studying the animals and plants of the Baynouna – a protected area in Abu Dhabi. They baited camera traps with cat food over several months and eventually managed to get 46 photos, which the team later identified as being of three individuals. Sightings were usually late on moonlit nights and at cooler times, suggesting the cats prefer medium to low temperatures of between 11 and 28 °C. Their habitat was in sparsely vegetated sand dunes," New Scientist reported.
Environment Agency - Abu Dhab
The team hopes the information from this study will help inform future conservation strategies.
“It is clear that field research will all be extremely valuable in putting together conservations plans for the sand cats and their habitat, as well as pin-pointing those areas and their extent that may be turned into protected areas to conserve the cats,” says Newby. “Scientists need to be doing more research on how the sand cats live in order to create a suitable protected area.”
Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark/National Geographic Creative
These cats are beautiful creatures. We need to do more to keep them around!
Check out this volunteering opportunity on Big Cat Rescue to do some good.
Related Story: Meet the sand cat: nature's forever kittens!
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