Elusive and Adorable Arabian Sand Cats Spotted for the First Time in a Decade

They might closely resemble the adorable cat who sleeps in your bed, but Arabian sand cats are a very wild version of house cats. They have adapted to live in harsh desert conditions and are so so elusive that until now no one has seen one in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in more than 10 years.

These shy, nocturnal creatures can be found across Arabia, Central Asia and North Africa, but very little is known about them. The blend in well with their desert surroundings, and are very difficult to track.

Their populations are believed to be declining because of a loss of habitat and prey. They’re now listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and they are protected as an endangered species in the UAE.

Arabian sand cat, Felis margarita harrisoniCredit: Thinkstock

The last reported sighting in the UAE was in 2005, but it was never confirmed. At the time it was estimated there were 250 sand cats, but no one knew for sure.

In an effort to learn more about these elusive cats, scientists set out to determine if they still exist. Last year, Shakeel Ahmed, an assistant scientist at Abu Dhabi’s Environment Agency, went out to with a team to try to find them.

The team baited camera traps with cat food in a protected area in the hope they would be able to confirm they were still there. They ultimately captured 46 images that were taken by five traps, which were later determined to be photos of three individual cats living in the area – two females and one male.

Figure-2-Image-of-sand-cat-captured-in-Baynouna-protected-area-by-camera-trap-number-1Credit: European Journal of Wildlife Research

The findings, which were just published in the European Journal of Wildlife Research, will also hopefully lead to more research and effective conservation efforts to protect this species as a whole.

“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,” John Newby of the Sahara Conservation Fund told New Scientist. “Scientists need to be doing more research on how the sand cats live in order to create a suitable protected area.”

As others have pointed out, the fact that they’re super cute, and people around the world are really into cats, could also be a bonus for their conservation needs.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

285 comments

Nellie K Adaba
Nellie K Adaba11 months ago

Wow

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Patricia H.
Patricia Harris11 months ago

Sarah Hill, that's pretty much the case with the birds we thought were extinct, but was then discovered many years later.

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Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill11 months ago

This just goes to show, that you don't see them doesn't mean they aren't there.
I love the kitties!

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Cally Smith
Cally Smith11 months ago

Beautiful, and thought to be lost, now heres another chance to save them. Lets do it.

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joan silaco
joan silacoabout a year ago

tyfs

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Patricia H.
Patricia Harrisabout a year ago

Melania Padilla, poachers definitely need to find something better to do with their lives. killing animals for food is one thing, but to kill them for sport, and to the point of endangerment/extinction is NEVER a good thing.

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Melania Padilla
Melania Padillaabout a year ago

Maybe, scientists should give any details on the location; poachers are everywhere. I am glad for the kitties!

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federico bortoletto
federico babout a year ago

Bellissimo!!!

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Patricia H.
Patricia Harrisabout a year ago

Marie W., that can change!

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Jennifer H.
Jennifer Habout a year ago

What beautiful animals. Thanks for sharing.

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