The Sand Cat (Felis margarita) is a small wild cat that is uniquely adapted to its desert habitat. Sand Cat adaptations include very large, triangular ears to detect the movement of small prey underground and at a distance. Hairy foot pads help with traction on the loose sand and to insulate it from the extreme hot and cold temperatures of the desert. Its sandy colouring makes this desert cat almost invisible against the sand dunes which helps avoid detection by predators.
Sand Cats are distributed over a vast region at low densities in remote desert habitats so it is very rare to come across these cats in the wild, thus most online videos will be of captive cats.
Key reference: Chapter Sand Cat from The Wild Cat Book by Fiona and Mel Sunquist 2014 - on our list of recommended books on wild cats.
View more videos about African cats at Cats for Africa YouTube Channel.
Michael Aymerich: In search of the Sand Cat (À la recherche du chat des sables...).
This video, narrated in French, shows the dry, flat desert habitat of the Sahara occupied by the African Sand Cat, also known as the Sand Dune Cat. The habitat is sandy and rocky with short, sparse vegetation and is also inhabited by other desert animals such as vipers and rodents. The footage of the Sand Cat starts at 3:20.
French Description: "Petite vidéo relative à la recherche des chats des sables (Felis margarita) au Sahara atlantique dans une zone comprise entre El Argoub et Aousserd..."
English: "A short video on the search for sand cats (Felis margarita) in the Atlantic Sahara in an area between El Argoub and Aousserd ..."
Jardin Zoologique de Rabat: Sand Cat Kittens Footage
The Sand Cat Sahara Team was conducting research in Morocco and fortuitously came across these three Sand Cat kittens hiding under a bush.
Notice their huge triangular ears that are adapted to amplify sounds and detect vibrations in the desert. This is important to detect prey that is sparsely distributed over large distances in the harsh terrain. Their sensitive ears also allow them to hear the calls of other distant Sand Cats, which are loud and at a low frequency - sounds which travel further in an dry open environment.
Big Cat Rescue: Species Spotlight - What is a Sand Cat?
These excellent educational videos by Big Cat Rescue in Florida, USA feature many of the smaller wild cats.
The Sand Cat's unique adaptations to desert life are described including the thick hairs on their foot pads - see a photo at the bottom of our Sand Cat Description page. Besides insulating the feet from the hot desert sands, the hairs also obscure any tracks in the sand, and presumably scent as well, thus making it difficult for canine predators (and man) to track the cats.
Ryan Carter: Pakistan Sand Cat
This video describes further Sand Cat adaptations such as a thick fur coat that insulates them against the cold desert nights. The cats are also able to go without direct drinking water (obviously scarce in their desert habitat) by obtaining sufficient fluids from their prey.
Four subspecies of Sand Cat were described in the past:
- Felis margarita margarita - North Africa
- Felis margarita harrisoni - Arabia
- Felis margarita thinobia - Central Asia
- Felis margarita scheffeli - Pakistan
However the latest taxonomic revision (Kitchener et al. 2017) proposes two subspecies, pending further research:
- Felis margarita margarita - North Africa (smaller with yellowish fur and bold markings)
- Felis margarita thinobia - Southwest Asia and Arabian Peninsula (larger with greyer fur and less markings)
The IUCN Red List 2016 assessment lists Pakistan as one of the countries where Sand Cats have become extinct, together with Israel and Yemen.