IUCN Sand Cat Distribution Map
Interactive map of the Sand Cat's range by the IUCN Red List

The Sand Cat (Felis margarita) distribution is across the desert ranges of the Sahara in Africa, the Arabian Peninsular and southwest Asia. It is one of few wild cat species that occupies true desert habitat. The subspecies in Africa is generally smaller than its Asian counterpart.

Sand Cat Distribution in Africa

Sand Cats occur in the desert habitats in the northern and western regions of Africa (IUCN Red List):

North Africa: Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Morocco, Sudan, Western Sahara

West Africa: Mali, Mauritania, Niger

Sand Cat Distribution outside of Africa

The Sand Cat also occurs in disjointed populations in the arid regions of the Arabian peninsular and southwest Asia (IUCN Red List):

Middle East:  Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Syrian Arab Republic, Oman, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates

Asia: Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan

Possibly extinct: Israel, Pakistan, Yemen

Sand Cat Subspecies

Four subspecies of the Sand Cat (Felis margarita) have been recognized in the past. However the last taxonomic revision of the Felidae cat family in 2017 proposed two subspecies, pending further research:

1. African Sand Cat - Felis margarita margarita - North Africa (smaller with yellowish fur and bold markings)

2. Asian Sand Cat - Felis margarita thinobia - Southwest Asia and Arabian Peninsula (larger with greyer fur and less markings)

For a full classification of this wild cat see Felis Lineage - Felis margarita Classification.

Sand Cat Subspecies

Sand Cat (Felis margarita) in Sandy Desert Habitat
Sand Cat (Felis margarita) in Sandy Desert Habitat

Sand Cat Habitat

The Sand Cat primarily occupies sandy deserts but has also been recorded in stony and rocky deserts. They are found near the patches of sparse vegetation that can support their prey species and the cats have special adaptations to survive in the extreme desert conditions.

The IUCN Red List has standardised habitat types globally and there is only one primary habitat type suitable for Sand Cats across its full range (IUCN Red List):

  • Desert - Hot

Where to see Sand Cats in Africa

All of the medium to smaller cats are very difficult to observe in the wild. Many are crepuscular or nocturnal and rarely seen during the day. Some like the Sand Cat occur in remote locations in extreme environments. The best way is to visit the nature reserves or the national parks of countries within their distribution or hire specialist wildlife guides.

iNaturalist is a global citizen science platform where people can post their sightings of animals in the wild. Identification is verified by other members and subsequently conservationists and scientists use this data in their important work.

If you have been lucky enough to spot one of the smaller cats in your travels, no matter how long ago, please upload your images to the platform and thus help with research and conservation of this species.

Here are links to view the sightings that have recently been posted:

African Sand Cat Observations

Asian Sand Cat Observations

(Note there are also images of dead animals if you are a sensitive viewer.)

Another excellent resource if you are planning a trip to Africa is the Mammal Watching website. Comprehensive trip reports and mammal lists are posted by travellers who focus on observing the mammals of the world. Check out the trip reports listing Sand Cats in their sightings checklist as well as some stunning photos.

African Sand Cat (Felis margarita margarita)
iNaturalist African Sand Cat Observation Western Sahara   © Sheelagh Halsey CC BY-NC

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