Tiny Sand Cats Have The Largest Ranges Of All Felines, Study Says

There’s a lot we don’t know about felis margarita, so much so that kittens of the elusive and stealthy species weren’t photographed in the wild until 2017.

Now a study has unveiled a surprising fact about sand cats: despite being tiny in stature, they occupy huge ranges that can rival the size of territories claimed by big cats like tigers and jaguars. One cat claimed 1,758 square kilometers — about 1,093 square miles — for himself according to Gregory Breton, the study’s author, who said the cat’s behavior showed sand cat ranges are “considerably larger than previously estimated.”

That individual maintained his impressive range for more than six months before moving on. His behavior and the movement of 21 others tracked via radio collars suggests the species could be semi-nomadic, moving or adjusting their ranges as they look for prey and water in some of the hottest, most arid environments on the planet.

“If true, this type of movement in response to rainfall is previously unrecorded among wild cat species,” wrote Breton, who is managing director of the cat conservation group Panthera in France.

In addition to following sources of water, the cats may maintain such large ranges because prey are more spread out compared to biomes like jungles, forests and wetlands where other species of cats make their homes.

(Above: Tap or click the images for full resolution versions.)

Impressive ranges weren’t the only surprise the tiny cats had for researchers. Breton and his colleagues managed to catch and examine more than 40 sand cats before releasing them back into the wild and noted they were all healthy, with few scars, no fresh wounds and no broken teeth.

The lack of wounds “means that it is likely that sand cats exhibit little territoriality and tolerate each other across their ranges,” Breton wrote  “This beloved cat may indeed share habitat with others of its species — maybe their perception does match their nature, at least towards other sand cats.”

Sand cats can be found in the Algerian Sahara, the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula and countries like Chad, Niger and Morocco. The Panthera team tracked the Lilliputian felines in the latter country, traversing the desert and arid landscapes of southwestern Morocco where temperatures peaked at 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius) during the day.

Sand cats have what Breton describes as “whimsical faces,” sporting wide, swept ears to go along with the general horizontal appearance of their heads.

They have golden, classic tabby markings and sand-colored fur with well-defined dark rings on their limbs, allowing them to expertly blend into their surroundings. Sand cat camouflage is so effective and the species is so quiet that one of the best ways to find them is at night, using search lights to pick out their reflective inner eyelids amid the desert landscape.

They’re also considerably smaller than house cats, weighing up to 7.5 pounds.

Breton said his team’s research is critical for estimates of sand cat population, which in turn will help authorities determine the conservation status of the elusive feline.

Credit: Panthera 

11 thoughts on “Tiny Sand Cats Have The Largest Ranges Of All Felines, Study Says”

      1. I have not. The last time I was there was when I took the tiger photos I posted to the blog and most of the indoor exhibits were closed at the time because of COVID. My SiL and my nieces are coming up to visit in about a week and we’ll probably take the kids to the zoo. If we do, I’ll be sure to get some photos.

        If they’re similar to domestic cats in terms of seasonal breeding, there might even be some kittens this time of year.

        Liked by 1 person

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