Population of Predatory Sand Cats that Feast on Venomous Snakes Might Be Shrinking, Researchers Worry
The shrinking population of predatory sand cats worries researchers. These cat species feast on rodents, and reptiles, including venomous snakes.
The first time sand kittens were captured on camera in the wild was only seven years ago. Few people had ever seen these desert-dwelling fluffballs, and little was known about the species by scientists.
But this is starting to change as a result of recent research. The largest dataset on the habitat range of sand cats has ever been recorded, according to a four-year study published in March. It also reveals how well these elusive wild cats thrive in harsh, arid environments throughout North Africa, the Middle East, and southwest and central Asia.
Predatory and Feasts on Venomous Snakes
Sand cats resemble their domestic cousins in appearance, but they are a little bit smaller. These felines have larger ears for hearing their prey. These cats, while equally adorable, are not meant to be petted. The report discovered evidence of the tiny wild cats preying on rodents and reptiles, which include poisonous snakes, proving that they are deadly killers.
Sand cats rely on their prey’s blood to obtain fluid and water, says Dr. Grégory Breton, managing director of Panthera France. These elusive cats are very stealthy and blend well into their sandy surroundings. Breton is a co-author of the study. It is also challenging to locate them because they do not leave any evidence of their prey. They even conceal their feces.
Due to a lack of research articles published on sand cats since they were first discovered in 1858, these variables have led to the underreporting of sand cats. However, Breton has been studying sand cats since 2013 due to his fascination with the species, and his research could help with conservation efforts.
Nomadic Traveling Sand Cats
Between 2015 and 2019, a group of five people-including scientists and a veterinarian-caught 22 sand cats in southern Morocco, fitted them with VHF radio collars, and intermittently tracked and observed them.
Breton claims that the outcomes were astounding. Many of the earlier presumptions are being challenged by his team.
Breton’s research indicates that sand cats cover a much larger area than previously thought for their home range, up to 679 square miles within only over six months. When compared to other cats their size, sand cats’ ranges even rival those of much larger cats such as lions and tigers.
The study also raises the possibility that sand cats may live a nomadic lifestyle, moving from one residence to another in response to weather patterns or other environmental factors, a trait not seen in any other wild cat species. According to Breton, the desert environment is what motivates these habits and actions.
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Reconsidering “Least Concern”
The report’s conclusions might have a significant impact on how well the sand cat is protected. Breton believes the sand cats may be more endangered than was previously believed, given their home range, the scarce resources, and the vulnerable ecosystem. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has given the species its “least concern” status at the moment, but the new data on home range sizes may indicate that the population is actually smaller than previously thought.
The authors, referenceing their study, are urging the IUCN to reconsider the listing of the sand cat.
The sand cat’s desert habitat is delicate and vulnerable to local threats like disease-carrying domestic cats and shepherd dogs. The new research is welcomed by Urs Breitenmoser, the IUCN SSC Cat Specialist Group co-chair, and he thinks it will be helpful for the ongoing evaluation of the listing of the sand cat.
He does point out that more research is necessary to fully understand the behavior and threats facing the species because the study only included a small portion of the sand cat’s range in the far west. Breton agrees, encouraging more studies to be conducted across the species’ range, CNN reports.
The study by Breton and several colleagues was recently published in the Journal of Arid Environments.
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