Sand Cat (Felis margarita)

The Sand cat (Felis margarita), also referred to as the "sand dune cat", is a small wild cat distributed over African and Asian deserts. The name "desert cat" is reserved for Felis silvestris lybica, the African wildcat, but it could be appropriate for this species. It lives in those arid areas that are too hot and dry even for the desert cat: the Sahara, the Arabian Desert, and the deserts of Iran and Pakistan. It lives for about 13 years in captivity.

The Sand cat's length averages almost 50 cm (20 in), plus a 30 cm (12 in) tail. The average weight of a sand cat is 2.7 kg (6 lbs). Their heads are conspicuously broad, and their ears are large, pointed, and widely spaced to the point they can be flattened horizontally or even pointing down (this aids in hunting). The colour of the fur is a pale sandy yellow, with pallid bars, which are sometimes hardly visible. Generally the bars are more visible in the African subspecies. The mucosa of their eyelids is a striking black. Their paws are covered with long hairs that allow it to tolerate and easily maneuver the hot sand of its environment. The sand cat can survive in temperatures ranging from −5 °C (23 °F) to 52 °C (126 °F).

Sand cats live solitarily (until mating season; see below), digging burrows to escape the desert heat, and come out after dusk to hunt rodents, lizards, birds and insects, although their diet may consist mostly of rodents. They "skulk" close to the ground and will use any available cover to protect themselves. Using their large ears they listen for prey, digging rapidly when they hear it underground. Since the sand cat obtains all the water it needs from eating its prey, it mostly stays far away from watering points where other predators may harm it. Sand cats congregate only for mating so numbering them is a difficult task. It seems however that their numbers have been declining in the Arabian desert following a rarefaction of their prey.

Threats to the Sand cat include humans, wolves, snakes, and raptors. Although solitary animals, sand cats do not have their own territories like tigers or bobcats, and may even "take turns" over burrows with others.

Hunting this cat is prohibited in Algeria, Iran, Israel, Kazakhstan, Mauritania, Niger, Pakistan and Tunisia. No legal protection is offered by the following countries: Egypt, Mali, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates.

Since 2007, the first four kittens born in captivity are being raised at the Al Ain Zoo in the United Arab Emirates as an effort to preserve the local fauna.

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