The fur of the sand cat is a sandy colour. It has a stocky build with short legs. These legs features two black stripes at the top. Their long tail is tipped with black and has two to three dark rings that alternate with a buff coat. Coat patterns vary markedly in this species with some having numerous spots and stripes and others having none. Their chin, throat, belly and upper chine are white.
Coming out of the corner of each eye is a red line that goes down along the cheek. Their eyes are large and a yellowish-green. Around them is a white ring. Their nose is black. At the top of the ears is a black tip.
Covering the feet is a layer of wiry black hairs. These are an adaptation that protect their foot pads from the extremes of temperature in the desert. It also makes walking on sand easier. Their claws are generally blunt as they dig a lot and don’t have many places to sharpen them in the wild.
In cooler regions with harsh winters these cats grow a winter coat that is long and thick. Their hair may measure up to 5.1cm (2in) long at this time.
Sand cats weigh between 1.35kg and 3.2kg (3lb-7.1lb). From the head to the base of the tail they measure 39-52cm (15-20in). The tail adds 23.2-31cm (9.1-12in) to this length. At the shoulder they stand 25.4-30.4cm (9.1-12in) tall.
Most of the sand cats diet consists of small rodents. These may include young cape hare, jerboas, gerbils, jirds and spiny mice. They may also prey upon small reptiles and birds along with insects. On occasion they have been seen killing snakes using a rapid blow to the head and then a bite to the neck.
Following a hunt they bury their food in the sand and return later to feed. All of their water requirements are fulfilled by the moisture in their prey. They will drink if they come across water though.
Sand Cats make their home in Africa and Asia. Here they can be found throughout Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Mauritania, Tunisia, Libya, Mali, Niger, Israel, Jordan, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Nigeria, Uzbekistan and Iraq. Some evidence also exists that there are populations in Senegal, Chad and Sudan.
They are found in areas of sandy and stony desert. They like to inhabit flat terrain and keep away from dunes which provide little food. Their home range may be to up to 16km2 (6.2mi2). When it gets too hot or cold they retreat into a burrow.
Litters are born in March-April and October in the wild. When a female comes into season she begins calling and increases her scent marking. This period lasts for between five and six days.
59 to 66 days later an average of three kittens is born. The birth takes place in a den which they either dig or they may find an abandoned one. Kittens have a spotted yellow or reddish coat. At 14 days old their eyes will open with their first walk taking place at day 21. They take their first taste of solid food after 5 weeks. By five months old they are ¾ of their adult size. By the end of their first year they are fully grown.
In captivity infant mortality is high with 61% of the cats born before 2007 not living past day 30.
Sexual maturity is achieved at 14 months old.
Outside of the breeding season sand cats live a solitary lifestyle. They make their home in a burrow generally seeking out those abandoned by foxes and porcupines. During winter they are active by day but over summer they swap to being nocturnal and crepuscular.
They communicate using scenting and claw marking objects in their surroundings. They can make vocalizations like those of a domestic cat along with high pitched barking sounds.
Speeds of 30-40km/h (19-25mph) can be attained by the sand cat.
Humans, feral & domestic dogs, lions, jackals, wild dogs, venomous snakes and birds of prey hunt the sand cat.
Desertification, loss of vegetation and habitat degradation along with persecution in retaliation for killing chicks have put them at risk.
Sand cats leave almost no footprint as they walk across the sand.
They bury any faces making them impossible to find.
By Greg Hume (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Payman sazesh (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Ltshears (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Sliwa, A., Ghadirian, T., Appel, A., Banfield, L., Sher Shah, M. & Wacher, T. 2016. Felis margarita. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T8541A50651884. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-2.RLTS.T8541A50651884.en. Downloaded on 23 May 2020.
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