New Sand Cat Info

sand cat felis margaritaWe’ve updated our Sand cat fact sheet with new information on their distribution and conservation threats.

Distribution

Sand cats Felis margarita occur across the Sahara Desert, from Morocco in the west to as far as Egypt and the Sudan in the east. In Asia, they have been recorded in Syria, Iran, east of the Caspian Sea in Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Their presence in Pakistan is unknown. Sand Cats show a scattered distribution across the Arabian Peninsula but their status and distribution are not well known.

The global distribution of the Sand Cat appears to be markedly patchy. It is not clear whether the gaps in known range are due to a lack of records or truly reflect species absence.

Conservation

Habitat degradation and loss are considered to be the major threats to the Sand Cat. Vulnerable arid ecosystems are being rapidly converted by human settlement and activity, especially degraded through livestock grazing. Additional threats are the introduction of feral and domestic dogs and cats, creating direct competition for prey, predation and disease transmission. This applies particularly along roads through suitable habitat.

In Iran, Sand Cats are killed by shepherd dogs and trapped in snares set for other species. They also get stuck in fences and are vulnerable to indiscriminate trapping and poisoning of predators.

In the Arabian Peninsula, sand dune habitat continues to decline. Several of the areas have been affected by political strife, and war-like conditions that have accelerated habitat destruction i.e. Syria.

Locally, Sand Cats may be threatened by the pet trade. There are occasional reports of Sand Cats being shot in Saudi Arabia.

In Algeria, they are not considered a threat to poultry, or trapped to sell as pets. Toubou nomads living northwest of Lake Chad consider Sand Cats frequent chicken thieves which readily enter their camp in the evenings. They do not generally retaliate, due to traditional religious respect for these small cats as tradition holds that they were the companions of the Prophet Mohammed and his daughter.

The development of reliable survey methods is urgently needed to assess the population. Furthermore, studies on the behaviour and ecology of the Sand Cat are crucial to apply appropriate conservation measures.

You can help the Sand Cats in Morocco

Read the full Sand Cat fact sheet here

Sand Cats of Morocco – Update From the Field

The sand cat Felis margarita is widespread over large parts of the North African Sahara, but there have been few specimens collected or reliable sightings documented since the mid 1970’s.

However, over the last decade there have been regular sightings in the Moroccan Sahara, especially along a stretch of road running southeast from the coastal city of Dakhla.

In the spring of 2013, Dr. Alex Sliwa and Gregory Breton conducted a self-funded field excursion to look for sand cats in this region. In three days, they identified three different sand cats – one male and two females. The results encouraged the researchers to apply for permits to do a telemetry study on the sand cat in its westermost distribution in Africa.

They returned to the area for two weeks in December 2015. During nocturnal drives, four sand cats were seen, two males and two females, and fitted with radio collars. These were the first sand cats ever radio-collared and tracked in the Sahara. They were followed for several days and nights. Hunting sequences were observed, high quality photographs taken and preliminary results on home ranges and behaviour were established. The researchers plan to make two further trips to Morocco during the winter of 2016-2017.

Female F2 hidden in perennial shrub
Female F2 hidden in perennial shrub.

 

Male M2 with a captured lesser gerbil.
Male M2 with a captured lesser gerbil.

Methods

While sitting on the roof rack of a Landrover, which was driven at 20-30 km/hr, a 100W spotlight was moved in a sweeping motion covering both sides of the road. Upon detecting carnivore eyeshine reflection, the animal was followed off road.

When caught in headlights or spotlamp, sand cats either flatten themselves on the ground or hide in sparse vegetation. Once settled, the cat was captured using two hand nets. They were then anaesthitized and weighed, tooth wear was measured, fur and physical condition were examined. Radio collars weighing 27 grams, 42 grams or 55 grams, depending on the size of the cat, were attached. All cats were closely monitored and ran away when fully awake.

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Results

  • Age of the cats was estimated based on the condition of their teeth, general body size, fur condition and head marks. Female F1 was estimated at 1-1.5 years; F2 est 7-10 months; M1 est 1.5-2 years; M2 est 3-4 years.
  • The four cats caught in 2015 were all in good physical condition, although all carried fleas and one had a tick. The male M2 had a more bleached fur than the others.
  • During the night, the older male M2 was located in six locations, and the younger female F2 in two locations. Both cats were found to move together, sniffing each other and playing between 02:45 to 03:00.
  • During the daytime, M2 was located at six independent locations and F2 at four. On all occasions, both cats were found hidden inside a perennial shrub, or at the base of large perennial grass.
  • M2 was observed hunting for three consecutive hours at night and made three successful kills.
  • The younger male Ml, was located an hour after sunset three days after collaring, 8 km south of his original place of capture. About 30 hours later, he was found 6.3 km north of the place of capture and 14 km from the previous observation. 14 km in a straight line in less than 30 hours is one of the longest distances ever reported for this species.
  • Researchers could not relocate the older captured female Fl despite intensive searching every night.
  • Home range sizes were estimated as follows: M1 at 35 sq. km, M2 at 22 sq km and F2 at 13 sq km.
  • Weights and measurements were consistent with other pooled data available for the species.
  • The older male M2 was tracked and observed more often than the others. He was found twice within 24 hours because he moved shorter distances, leading researchers to believe he was the resident male.
  • The young female F2 was tracked regularly at first and researchers discovered her positions overlapped some of those of M2. Since the two cats were found together one night, researchers suspect a relationship between them: either father/daughter or a breeding pair.
  • From the captive population, it is known female sand cats start breeding at 11 months. F1 was estimated to be 7-10 months so may not have been sexually mature at the time of collaring.
  • M1 and F1 were both considered to be subadults, and may be from the same litter. They may have travelled such long distances looking for a suitable territory, or they already had one and were in search of breeding partners.
  • It was suspected some of the four cats may be related and DNA tests will be carried out on hair samples.
M2 hidden under perennial grass.
M2 hidden under perennial grass.

 

Camera trap of M2 moving from his resting location.
Camera trap of M2 moving from his resting location.

 

This short-term tracking data falls into a similar pattern to data collected in Israel and Saudi Arabia, where the cats did not use dens at any time. However, a study in Uzbekistan directly observed sand cats entering and exiting dens in the ground. The lack of dens in the Sahara could be related to a lower number of species that excavate holes than in other regions. There could be seasonal changes with Saharan sand cats using dens only in the hotter period of the year (June-December). It could also be a consequence of the low number of sand cat predators in this region.

Studying additional individuals in the same location is crucial to understanding the social organization, reproduction patterns and dispersal habits of the species in the region. Researchers would like to extend telemetry work to additional sand cats and intensify the camera trapping in future years.

See also Sand Cats of Morocco 

Zookeeper Travels: African Golden Cat

By Ricky Reino

With this post I’m going to tell you about my ‘Weekend to Africa’ to spend time with an African golden cat!

African golden cats are most definitely the least known of all the African cat species, and there haven’t been many recorded in captivity, with the last known ones passing away many years ago.

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In 2014 after some months of communication (having had to majorly brush up on my French), I was invited to a private sanctuary in Central Africa by a lady who happened to keep what I think may be the only captive African golden cat. I booked my flights for March, and asked my dad to come along too as Central Africa wasn’t a place that I wanted to go to alone.

One long and bumpy plane journey later we arrived safely and were taken to the sanctuary, which was through the local village, down a dirt track and behind a big set of metal gates. Despite being extremely tired from the journey and the shock to the system of being in such a high humidity area (after coming from a very rainy London) I was itching to see the cat, but it was 2am so everything was in darkness.

Once we had had the chance to catch up on sleep the owner showed us around the grounds and explained why she had the various animals there. Animals such as the golden cat, some mangabey monkeys, mongoose, civets, various small hoofed animals and a 4 year old gorilla were all victims of wildlife crime and as the owner worked for the government, she took them in to her sanctuary.

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Having grown up with western zoos, enclosures here weren’t to the standards that I was used to, but the owner and her staff showed as much passion and enthusiasm for the animals as any keeper that I have worked with. I was shown plans for a brand new ‘semi-wild’ site that was being created deep in the forest that the animals would move to so they weren’t near to people, and was asked to design a better enclosure for the African golden cat, with the ability to hold more than one in case others were to be rescued. I felt privileged to be asked this and got on with designs straight away.

RRgoldencatMy weekend at the sanctuary was mostly spent sat by the side of the African golden cat enclosure, completely mesmerised by how stunning it was.

It was a 4 year old male that the owner took in at a young age, due to villagers finding him on his own at the edge of a forest who then handed him over to police.

He was a solidly built cat, a little bigger than a caracal (which it is closely related to genetically) with a reddish/grey coat, a white underside and faint markings along his sides & belly. He had huge feet, long back legs, a shorter tail and amazing crystal blue eyes.

Despite having been in a captive environment from a young age, he showed lots of interest and natural stalking behaviour in the various hoof stock species roaming freely in the area next to his enclosure. He would also readily leap up the branches in the enclosure to try and catch wild birds that landed on his roof.

He wasn’t as aggressive as I had expected him to be, although he would hiss if I shuffled position (mainly due to the ants that were climbing into my shorts!) He was actually quite interested in what I was doing, and I have a lot of great pictures of his big pink nose, where he would put his face up to the camera just as the photo was taken!

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With the keeper, I went in to the enclosure to clean up his mess and any food left overs, and although the cat was confident when there was a fence between us, he stayed out of our way when we were cleaning up, though we did have a broom at hand to keep him at distance if we needed to.

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Whilst in the enclosure I took the opportunity to spray some of the owner’s perfume on a tree stump, as a bit of sensory enrichment, which is something that we do quite often in western zoos to keep our captive animals stimulated. As soon as we left the enclosure the golden cat investigated the new smell and displayed lots of similar behaviours to other cats that I have done this enrichment with – lots of head and body rubbing around the stump and then spraying over it and walking round his territory, spraying and calling.

Although it was a very quick trip, I absolutely loved having the opportunity to study and do a bit of enrichment with the African golden cat; and hope to go back once the new semi-wild site & enclosure complex is completed, to help with moving the animals.

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I would love to create a bit more awareness for the existence of this beautiful but little known species, and help direct attention to the great studies being carried out by scientists and conservation organisations right now.

Thanks for reading

Ricky

See also African Golden Cat

#helpBFC – Updates from the field

We’ve just received an update from Beryl Wilson, Project Manager of the BFCWG – they’ve captured the first black-footed cat of the trip! 

Researchers are currently in the field in South Africa changing radio-collars and searching for uncollared cats. The information from these tiny collars gives researchers huge amounts of data on the daily lives of the black-footed cats.

Hundreds of kilograms of equipment, a 2 ton truck and 7 people and all for several tiny 1-2 kg cats! From a cold and rainy De Aar study site!

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The team tracking Stan on foot in a Karoo landscape.  He was successfully captured and his tracking collar replaced.

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Group photo after catching the first cat of the trip.  Stan was collared for the first time in Nov 2013.  Following heavy rains over the past few days, he was resting above ground.  After a short chase on foot in the late afternoon, he was recovered from a shallow den and his collar replaced.  

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Dr. Alex Sliwa fitting Stan’s new collar. 

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This is your chance to help us make a difference for these smallest of wild cats, and we ask for your support. Even if you’re not in a position to make a donation, please help us spread the word. Tell your friends, tell your family, share it on your social media, shout it from the rooftops, hire a skywriter… OK maybe not the last one, but you get the idea. Pass it on, and encourage your friends to do the same!

Please share this campaign and let everyone know you stand as a voice for the smallest of wild cats. Together, we CAN make a difference!

Help  Save Africa’s Smallest Wild Cat 

#helpBFC – a big campaign for a small cat

In the harsh desert environment of South Africa lives a very tiny wild cat. Adult male black-footed cats weigh less than five pounds, or 2.5 kg, making them one of the smallest wild cat species in the world. Theirs is a world of arid climate, temperature extremes, vast hunting areas and constant danger from larger carnivores.

black-footed cat in the wild

Black-footed cats are no bigger than your house cat, and probably smaller in most cases. They are only found in three countries: Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.

An incredibly tenacious little cat, the natives have a legend claiming these tiny cats can bring down a giraffe. While this is untrue, it pays homage to the determination of these feisty little felines.

Researchers often record interactions between black-footed cats and other animals in their habitat. Their attitude proves that while they may be small, they don’t let their size stop them!

“The male Kubu was located resting in a hollow termite mound. When he became active, he sprayed several times, then caught a gerbil. He continued to forage and as a group of bat-eared foxes three times the size of the cat approached, Kubu sat and watched them. When one of the foxes came too close, Kubu slapped him and just walked on.”

Or how about this determined kitty:

“I was following one of the black-footed cats when I drove past a blue crane nest I had been checking the past week. This time when I shone my spotlight on the big birds, I noticed the bright blue eyes of the male black-footed cat next to the nest. I watched as he sniffed the nesting female’s head and neck, then tried to push underneath her to get to the chicks in the nest.”

black-footed cat hunting
Their Population is Decreasing

In addition to natural threats like black-backed jackals, caracals and eagle owls, these cats are increasingly being challenged by human changes to their habitat.

The average black-footed cat eats about 3,000 rodents each year. This should earn them the title of Farmer’s Friend, but they face many man-made threats:

-Poisoning of carcasses to kill larger carnivores, which the black-footed cats scavenge
-Overgrazing by livestock, which reduces their prey base
-Poisoning of locusts, which are eaten by the cats in huge numbers
-Killing by domestic dogs, which are used to chase or dig out jackals

With their population rapidly declining, this field project is vitally important so we can learn how to reverse this trend.

Why We Need You

To study these nocturnal little felines, first you have to find them at night, in the vast desert. Team members drive a nightly route of up to 50 miles (80 km) along dirt roads at a speed under 18 mph (30 km) per hour while looking for the characteristic bright blue eye-shine of the cats. A minimum of two people stand on the open back of the vehicle operating two spotlights.

The project’s old 4×4 truck is on it’s last tires. With nearly 400,000 km of looking for black-footed cats on the odometer, it is spending more time in the costly repair shop than on the road.

When this truck stops working, the project stops learning about the cats. A new vehicle would cost more than $40,000 US but with your help, we can keep the cats under focus for half that price!

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This is your chance to help us make a difference for these smallest of wild cats, and we ask for your support. Even if you’re not in a position to make a donation, please help us spread the word. Tell your friends, tell your family, share it on your social media, shout it from the rooftops, hire a skywriter… OK maybe not the last one, but you get the idea. Pass it on, and encourage your friends to do the same!

Please share this campaign wherever you can, and let everyone know you stand as a voice for the smallest of wild cats. Together, we CAN make a difference!

Help  Save Africa’s Smallest Wild Cat 

 

The amazing ears of the Caracal

Desert and grassland carnivores of all kinds rely heavily on their superb hearing to survive. Hunting over vast open distances, it is essential that they be able to hear the squeaks and chirps of their prey so they know which direction to go.

In this wonderful video from The Smithsonian, we learn that the Caracal uses 20 muscles – in three distinct groups – to independently control each of those large tufted ears. They act as super sensitive parabolic sound antennas, and the long tufts at the tips are thought to enhance their hearing by funneling sounds into the ears.

The Caracal is also famous for their impressive leaps straight into the air, swatting birds in flight at the same time. They are truly remarkable hunters.

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Help Save Small Wild Cats

Did you know the smallest wild cat species in the world weighs just 1.2 kg (2 pounds?) Like their big cousins, the small felines are under threat – habitat loss, illegal hunting for food and fur, persecution – these are just a few of the dangers facing them. ISEC Canada was formed in 1990 to help the 28 small cat species. You can help by making a donation.

Donate Now Through CanadaHelps.org!

100% of donations go to the cats!

 Our programs support scientific field research learning about the cats in their native countries. For instance, research may help determine the actual number of Caracals in the wild which at present is unknown.

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The word Caracal means ‘black ears’ in Turkish. Large, tapering ears with five cm erect tufts of black hair, used for communication, are the most unique feature of this cat. Black-backed ears, dark spots on both sides of the muzzle, black spots above the eyes and a black stripe from the eye to the nose break up an otherwise uniform tawny-brown to brick-red colouring. Learn more

Thank you for your support!

 

Give Generously to the Tiny Wild Cats

ISEC Canada has sponsored studies on small wild cats around the world. Where are the cats located? What kind of habitat do they use? What do they eat? How large is the population? These and many other questions must be answered before any conservation plans can be put in place.

100% of donations are sent directly to small wild cat conservation programs around the world.

Donate Now Through CanadaHelps.org!

One of the projects that we have supported annually since 1993 is the Black-footed Cat Project.  ISEC Canada has been recognized as the longest running supporter of this project.  This long-running field study is learning what these tiny cats need to survive in the deserts of South Africa, and we are proud to support this vital work. Please help us continue our support.

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The Black-footed Cat Felis nigripes is Africa’s smallest felid, and among the smallest wild cat species in the world. As special adaptations to their desert habitat, these cats have a broad skull with large, rounded ears, which provide enhanced hearing in an area with scarce prey. Low-set ears are often completely flattened in an ‘aggressive’ posture, an adaptation to hunting in areas with little cover. They are protected from the hot sand by hair on the black soles of the feet. Learn more

 Thank you for your support!

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