The Cutest Animal Ever?
Imagine the cutest kitten you have ever seen. Now imagine that kitten grows up, and is still just as cute as it was when it was a kitten. That's right, a grown cat that still looks just like a kitten. Do you have that image in your head? Good. Now imagine that this adorable kitten-cat is a wild animal. By wild animal, I don't mean alley cat or jungle tiger. No, I just mean a cute, tiny wild cat, living in the desert. Imagine a cave in the desert filled with a family of these furry creatures, all looking up at you with big kitten eyes. If they feel threatened, they will crouch down and squeeze their eyes shut tight, so you can't find them by searching for the reflections in their eyes. Is this some strange, fantastic cat planet? No, it's planet Earth, and this is the sand cat.
All about Sand Cats
In the deserts of Africa and Asia, sand cats live solitary lives. Outside mating season, they live alone, usually in holes and burrows made by other small animals. In color, they are mostly light yellow, and they have some distinguishing dark marks and stripes on their faces and legs. At their largest, they are a little less than two-feet long. Their unusually wide heads are what give them their eternally young, kitten-like appearance. There are six recognized subspecies of sand cats, and the animals can live up to 13 years if properly cared for in captivity. They hunt at night, feeding on small animals like snakes and gerbils.
Sand Cats and the Desert
Sand cats, also known as sand dune cats, just might be the cutest wild animal that Mother Nature ever conceived, but don't go searching your local pet store for one of your own. Sand cats are native to some of the harshest desert environment in the world, including the Sahara, in Africa, and remote desert areas of Pakistan and Iran. Because they live in such extreme areas, the global sand cat population is very small and vulnerable to decline. Although hunting sand cats is illegal in many areas, their native range is slowly shrinking, primarily due to human activity and settlement. For example, there was once a population of sand cats in Israel, but they became extinct in that area, and reintroduction efforts did not succeed.
Protecting Sand Cats in Captivity
Protecting sand cats is especially important because of how poorly they do in captivity. Sand cats in zoos are particularly susceptible to particular kinds of common diseases, so, in order to successfully keep sand cats, zoos have to create very special environment just for them. This means that, if global sand cat populations become threatened, repopulating them could be challenging or even impossible. It wasn't until 2010 that a sand cat kitten was successfully bred in captivity for the first time. Nevertheless, active efforts are in place around the world to prevent the endangerment of the species.
Outside their native habitats, there are not many opportunities to view sand cats in person. In the United States, there are only 26 sand cats in captivity. Most of us will just have to settle for looking online at pictures and videos of these adorable wild animals.