Felis margarita 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Carnivora Felidae

Scientific Name: Felis margarita Loche, 1858
Regional Assessments:
Common Name(s):
English Sand Cat, Sand Dune Cat
French Chat des sables
Spanish Gato de las Arenas, Gato del Sahara
Taxonomic Notes: Taxonomy is currently under review by the IUCN SSC Cat Specialist Group (2014). Placed in the genus Felis according to genetic analysis (Johnson et al. 2006, O'Brien and Johnson 2007). Four subspecies have been classically described: F. m. margarita in North Africa, F. m. harrisoni in Arabia, F. m. thinobia in Central Asia and F. m. scheffeli in Pakistan (Sliwa 2013, Banfield et al. 2014), but genetic analysis is needed to confirm subspecific partitioning, especially in light of possible large gaps in the species distribution.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
Year Published: 2016
Date Assessed: 2014-04-20
Assessor(s): Sliwa, A., Ghadirian, T., Appel, A., Banfield, L., Sher Shah, M. & Wacher, T.
Reviewer(s): Nowell, K., Hunter, L., Hoffmann, M., Breitenmoser-Würsten, C., Lanz, T., Breitenmoser, U. & Mallon, D.
Contributor(s): Gritsina, M., Breton, G., Belbachir, F., Mohammad, K.M., Burnside, J., Duckworth, J.W., Spalton, A., Manati, A., Cunningham, P., Amr, Z.S.S., Gil Sánchez, J. & Strauss, M.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Lanz, T. & Breitenmoser-Würsten, C.
The Sand Cat is listed as Least Concern because even though it occurs naturally at low densities, and confirmed records are sparse (Nowell and Jackson 1996, Sunquist and Sunquist 2002, Sliwa 2013), it nonetheless exceeds both the extent of occurrence (EOO; 15,414,561 km²) and area of occupancy (AOO; 940,163 km²) thresholds for listing under B and the total population size (here conservatively estimated at 27,264 mature individuals) is estimated to exceed the threshold for threatened status under criterion C. Although some local declines have been reported, and several threats documented, there is no convincing evidence to support a range-wide decline over three generations that is substantial enough to qualify for Near Threatened or Vulnerable under A. Whether the rarity of the species is caused both in the past and currently by threats such as increasing habitat degradation and loss or the result of natural low density due to low primary productivity as well as difficulty in detection in its habitats is unknown.

Only very limited in-depth ecological research has been conducted since the last assessment in 2008, and the basic ecological needs of the Sand Cat are still poorly understood. Therefore, its distribution, status and the impact of threats on the species are difficult to assess. Moreover, there are still few recent confirmed records across its range (Sliwa 2013), and its extant distribution and population size is not well understood, despite heightened interest and publication of mostly singular sightings. More research needs to be initiated to document present continuous occurrence and assess its status. There are several areas of likely population declines (Banfield et al. 2014, Sher Shah and Shobrak 2016 in prep). Apart from new localized records in both space and time about its presence in a few range countries, no easily measurable changes within its distribution area are apparent, although threats and human induced negative impact on desert ecosystems have rather increased.
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:The global distribution of the Sand Cat appears to be markedly patchy. The Sand Cat is the only felid found primarily in true desert, and has a wide (EOO: 15,414,561 km²) but apparently disjunct distribution in the deserts of northern Africa and southwest and central Asia. It is not clear whether the gaps in known range are due to a lack of records or truly reflect species absence (Hemmer et al. 1976, Nowell and Jackson 1996). For example, sightings have been reported in Libya and Egypt west of the Nile (Sliwa 2013), but there are no confirmed historical records despite intensive collecting effort in this part of the Sahara (Hemmer et al. 1976) and this is unchanged to present.

In north Africa the Sand Cat occurs in former Western Sahara, currently administered by Morocco (records 2012- 2015, Chevalier et al. 2012, Webb et al. 2012, Sliwa et al. 2013, Chevallier et al. 2014, Rodríguez-Siles et al. 2015, Breton et al. 2016), in Algeria within and close to Ahaggar Cultural Park (Belbachir 2009, F. Belbachir, pers. comm. 2011, sighting was end of December 2010) further two individuals were killed in the Algerian Grand Erg Occidental (K. De Smet, pers. comm. 2014; undated killing) and the Béni Abbès region (R. Tahri, pers. comm. 2016, interview with hunter 2013, but undated killing) and one sighted in 2015 in the Tindouf area (I. Belbali, pers. comm. 2016), in Egypt in the northern Sinai peninsula (Saleh and Basuony 1998) and in 1984 in the rocky deserts of eastern Egypt (Goodman and Helmy 1986). Although there have been alleged sightings, no confirmed records exist from Tunisia, Libya, west of the Nile River in Egypt. There are recent camera-trap and sighting records from Niger and Chad (Rabeil et al. 2016), as well as sighting records from Mali (including a recent night time observation in the Lake Faguibine area: O. Hamerlynck pers. comm. 2011). In Mauritania, it is supposed to occur historically in the Adrar mountains and Majabat al Koubra (Lamarche 1980), however this is again unconfirmed by specimens or photographic records.

In Asia, the sand has been recorded in Syria, around the area of Palmyra (Serra et al. 2007). Its presence in Palestina is uncertain. Sand cats were first recorded in Iraq in 2012 in West Al-Najaf desert and from Al Jufaira oasis (Banfield et al. 2014, Mohammad et al. 2013). It has been recorded in Iran and east of the Caspian Sea in Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, but it is not known if the distribution is or was continuous to the Arabian Peninsula (Hemmer et al. 1976, Nowell and Jackson 1996, Sunquist and Sunquist 2002). In Uzbekistan, a breeding population of Sand Cats was discovered in 2013 in the Southern Kyzylkum Desert (Burnside et al. 2014). There are no recent reports on Sand Cats from Turkmenistan, although there is a report speculating on their continued presence in 1990 in the Karakum desert (Lukarevskiy 2001). In Kazakhstan, the Sand Cat is supposedly found on the Mangyshlak Peninsula, Ustyurt Plateau and the Kyzyl Kum Desert to the Syr Darya River (Institute for Zoology and Gene Pool of Animals of National Academy of Sciences of Republic of Kazakhstan 1996) but dated records are missing. A year-long study in the Kazakh Kysylkum in 2015 failed to find Sand Cats (G. Shakula via J. Sanderson, pers. comm. 2016). In Iran, Sand Cats distribution is limited to the desert habitats in the centre, east and southeast of the country but there are also some records from the north of the country (Farhadinia et al. 2008, Ghadirian et al. 2016). It is not known if the Sand Cat populations in Pakistan's Balochistan province are connected to the central Asian population via Afghanistan (Habibi 2004) and particularly what their status is after nuclear tests were done in the Nushki desert in the 1990s.

The Sand Cat shows a scattered distribution across the Arabian Peninsula. However, its status and distribution are not well known (Mallon and Budd 2011). The Sand Cat is considered very rare in Jordan and United Arab Emirates (Bunaian et al. 2001, Cunningham 2002, Mallon and Budd 2011, Banfield et al. 2014) and there are few post 2000 records. Sand Cats have been recorded in Oman from the Empty Quarter and Wahiba Sands (A. Spalton, pers. comm. 2016) and some protected areas in Saudi Arabia (Banfield et al. 2014, Mallon and Budd 2011, Sher Shah and Cunningham 2008, Strauss et al. 2007). There are also recent records form a systematic camera-trapping study from the western Empty Quarter in Saudi Arabia (T. Wacher pers. comm. 2016), which established a higher occupancy than expected from incidental sightings. Two records in Qatar were published in 1991 (Mallon and Budd 2011) and recent records in Kuwait close to the international borders with Saudi Arabia and Iraq (Banfield et al. 2014). Its presence in Qatar is uncertain and there have been no records in Yemen since 1952 (Mallon and Budd 2011) and it is possibly extinct.
Countries occurrence:
Algeria; Chad; Egypt; Iran, Islamic Republic of; Iraq; Jordan; Kazakhstan; Kuwait; Mali; Mauritania; Niger; Oman; Saudi Arabia; Sudan; Syrian Arab Republic; Turkmenistan; United Arab Emirates; Uzbekistan; Western Sahara
Possibly extinct:
Israel; Pakistan; Yemen
Additional data:
Estimated area of occupancy (AOO) - km2:940163
Continuing decline in number of locations:No
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:There are relatively few records of Sand Cat and the species is often reported as rare (Sliwa 2013). It was recently recorded in isolated areas from where historical records do not exist, such as deserts in Syria, western Saudi Arabia, western Iraq and central Chad (Serra et al. 2007, Strauss et al. 2007, Mohammad et al. 2013, M. K. Mohammad, pers. obs. February 2016, Rabeil et al. 2016). However, recent records are lacking from several range countries such as from Jordan, Palestine, Qatar and Yemen (Banfield et al. 2014), where specific surveys have either not been conducted, or the species has not been detected due to its elusive habits or the species is absent and thus the conservation status of the Sand Cat is unknown there. In Israel, the species has not been recorded in the country on post-2000 surveys and is now considered locally extinct (Noam Leader, Israel Nature and Parks Authority, in litt. 2014).

The only available density estimates come from a telemetry study in southern Israel, where 11 Sand Cats were caught in the study area of 15 x 25 km (375 km²), resulting in an estimated density of 2.9/100 km² (M. Abbadi, in Sliwa 2013). Based on this density and the estimated AOO (based on only the extant species range), the total population is conservatively estimated at 27,264 mature individuals. In the Saja / Umm Ar-Rimth Protected Area, Saudi Arabia, the annual home ranges (95% MCP) of 7 Sand Cats were 19.6 – 50.7 km² (Sher Shah and Shobrak 2016 in prep). In the same area Sand Cats appear to occur at far lower densities than Rüppell's Fox Vulpes rueppellii (Strauss et al. 2007 and pers. comm. 2008). Sher Shah recorded 692 Rüppells Foxes in comparison to 62 Sand Cat captured in a total of 4509 trap nights between 2001-2009 (Sher Shah et al. 2016 in prep). Particularly in the years 2006-07 there was heightened mortality in the 5 captured and radio-collared Sand Cats, three (60%) of them dying within a few months and the remaining two recorded missing after making large movements away from their initial home ranges. This 100 % mortality could have been due to the drought conditions the protected areas experienced (Sher Shah and Shobrak 2016 in prep, Sher Shah et al. 2016 in prep). This is also reflected by live-trapping in Saja / Umm Ar-Rimth Protected Area, Saudi Arabia where six Sand Cats were caught in a trap grid in 2002 reaching a potential density of 16.66 /100 km² (Sher Shah and Shobrak 2016 in prep, Sher Shah et al. 2016 in prep). Subsequent trapping sessions in 2005 with seven Sand Cats caught gave such trapping derived densities at 14.27 / 100 km². The capture rate decreased to 2.83 / 100 km² in 2006 with only one caught. In the years 2007 and 2009 no Sand Cats were caught in the same trapping grid (Sher Shah and Shobrak 2016 in prep, Sher Shah et al. 2016 in prep), documenting a possible local decline. Whether such calculations are valid estimators of densities is open to debate. A certain decline in capture rate could also have been due to trap shyness. In Mahazat As-Sayd Reserve no Sand Cat was seen between 2008 and 2009 (P. Cunningham, pers. comm. 2016). In low-quality habitat, such as shifting sand dunes, densities may be very low (Sliwa 2013). Numbers may fluctuate in response to environmental conditions leading to prey declines and recoveries (Sunquist and Sunquist 2002). The Sand Cat population on the Arabian Peninsula is considered to be declining at an unknown rate (Mallon and Budd 2011, Banfield et al. 2014), although this is difficult to prove, while in certain areas there may be more Sand Cats than previously expected (T. Wacher, pers. comm. 2016). There are no confirmed records from Yemen.

In the past 10 years (2006-2016) there seem to be repeated and regular reports of Sand Cats from Western Sahara, South Algeria, Niger, Chad, southwestern Saudi Arabia and the border area of southeaster Saudi Arabia with Oman and the United Arab Emirates, and Iran, probably strongholds for the species. This contrasts with the status in Central Asia and Pakistan, which is largely unknown, with only very few recent records available (Burnside et al. 2014). The same applies to the Karakum desert in Turkmenistan, with no records within the past 25 years, most of the records being far older (cited in Heptner and Sludskii 1972) and thus at least 5 generations of Sand Cats ago.
Current Population Trend:Unknown
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:The Sand Cat is a specialist of sandy desert, where it is unevenly distributed, localized around sparse vegetation which can support small rodent prey (Novell and Jackson 1996). In Morocco, it was found in sandy areas with perennial grass, low bushes and Acacia trees (Sliwa et al. 2013). In Iran, its main habitats are sand dunes with Saxaul Haloxylon trees and arid flat plains with little vegetation (Ghadirian et al. 2016). In the Arabian Peninsula it mainly occurs in sandy habitats but also in areas of hard, rocky substrate, such as gravel plains and volcanic lava fields (Cunningham 2002, Banfield et al. 2014). It is present in stony desert (Nowell and Jackson 1996). With its thickly furred feet, it is well adapted to the extremes of a desert environment, living in areas far from water, and tolerant of extremes of hot and cold temperatures (Nowell and Jackson 1996, Sunquist and Sunquist 2002, Sliwa 2013). It is known to use burrows as resting sites (M. Strauss pers. comm. 2008, M. Sher Shah pers. comm. 2016) and is absent from areas where the soil is compacted (Heptner and Sludskii 1972). In Central Asia the Sand Cat is known to withstand 40° Celsius in summer (80° Celsius on sand surface) and -25° Celsius in winter (Ghadirian et al. 2016). Individuals have been observed to use dens to escape from the sun, that they either dug themselves or adopted form other species like Red Foxes Vulpes vulpes or Porcupines Hystrix sp. (Breitenmoser and Breitenmoser 2011, Banfield et al. 2014). In the Moroccan Sahara, it seems that, in winter, Sand Cats do not use dens but hide amongst rocks or under vegetation during the day (Breton et al. 2016). The Sand Cat appears to be primarily nocturnal (Abbadi 1993, Nowell and Jackson 1996) and in winter also crepuscular (Breton et al. 2016).

Small rodents is its primary prey, with records including Spiny Mice Acomys spp., Jirds Meriones spp., Gerbils Gerbillus spp., and Jerboas Jaculus spp. and Allactaga tetradactyla, but also young of Cape Hare Lepus capensis in Africa. It has also been observed to hunt small birds like Greater Hoopoe Lark Alaemon alaudipes, Desert Lark Ammomanes deserti, and to consume reptiles such as smaller Desert Monitor Varanus griseus, Fringe-toed lizards Acanthodactylus spp., Sandfish Scincus scincus, Short-fingered Gecko Stenodactylus spp., Horned and Sand vipers of the genus Cerastes, and insects (De Smet 1988, Abbadi 1993, Dragesco-Joffé 1993, Cunningham 2002, Sliwa 2013). Sand-dwelling rodents made up the majority (65–88%) of stomach contents from carcasses collected in Turkmenistan and Uzebekistan in the 1960s (Schauenberg 1974). Small mammals preys like Euphrates jerboa Allactaga euphratica, Libyan jird Meriones libycus, Cheesman's gerbil Gerbillus cheesmanni are presumed prey in western Iraq (M.K. Mohammad pers. obs. February 2016). On the Arabian Peninsula the Sand Cat was recorded to prey on Spiny-tailed Lizard Uromastyx aegyptia and Jird Meriones arimalius and may also take locusts when they swarm (Cunningham 2002, Banfield et al. 2014). The Sand Cats' distribution coincides with that of Sand Skink Scincus mitranus and Arabian Toad-head Lizard Phrynocephalus arabicus; both reptiles are thought to be an important source of food for the cat (Sunquist and Sunquist 2002). The Sand Cat is capable of rapid digging to reach prey animals underground (Schauenberg 1974). It may cover kills with sand and return later to feed. It is independent of drinking water and capable of satisfying its moisture requirements from prey, but drinks readily if water is available (Sliwa 2013).

Home range sizes will likely vary according to ecological conditions and vegetation availability for prey animals, likely more favorable in suitable habitat of protected areas, where there is no major disturbance through domestic stock grazing. In a study along a dirt road (piste) in southern Morocco, initial home ranges (100% MCP) of two males and one female followed during four to six days were 35.3 km², 21.8 km² and 13.4 km², respectively (Breton et al. 2016). A radio telemetry study in Israel suggests large home ranges, with one male using an area of 16 km² (Abbadi 1993). Seven annual ranges (95% MCP) in the Saja/Umm ar-Rimth reserve, Saudi Arabia, were estimated at 19.6-50.7 km² (mean 35.5 km²) (Sher Shah and Shobrak 2016 in prep). Home ranges of males may overlap with each other and there is a considerable overlap between seasonal ranges of males and females (Sher Shah and Shobrak 2016 in prep.). Sand Cats have been recorded to move long distances in a single night (5–10 km) (Abbadi 1993). In Morocco, one male travelled more than 14 km in a straight line in less than 30 hours (Breton et al. 2016). In the Saja / Umm ar-Rimth reserve, the weight of male Sand Cats averaged 2.41 kg (n=13) and that of females 1.82 kg (n=16) (Sher Shah et al. 2016 in prep.). In Morocco, males (n=2) had a weight of 2.14 and 2.36 kg and females (n=2) of 1.32 and 1.85 kg (Breton et al. 2016).
Generation Length (years):4
Movement patterns:Not a Migrant

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Habitat degradation and loss for example through fencing (Sher Shah and Cunningham 2008, Banfield et al. 2014) are considered to be the major threats to the Sand Cat. Many areas are also more heavily frequented by humans, their domestic animals and commensals (i.e. red fox, Vulpes vulpes). Vulnerable arid ecosystems are being rapidly converted by infrastructural development and human settlement and activity, especially degraded through livestock grazing (Allan and Warren 1993, Al-Sharhan et al. 2003, Ghadirian et al. 2016). Degradation of desert ecosystems continues to be widely acknowledged as an urgent conservation problem (Bunaian et al. 2001, Abahussain et al. 2002, Al-Sharhat et al. 2003, Mallon and Budd 2011, Sliwa et al. 2013) and could result in a decline of Sand Cat populations, caused by a declining prey base. The Sand Cat's small mammal prey base depends on having adequate vegetation, and may experience large fluctuations due to drought (Sunquist and Sunquist 2002, Sher Shah and Shobrak 2016 in prep), or declines due to desertification and loss of natural vegetation. In the Arabian Peninsula, sand dune habitat continues to decline (Mallon and Budd 2011). Human induced habitat destruction through underground nuclear tests in the late 1990ies in Pakistan, where Sand Cats were recorded in the 1960ies. Several of the areas have been affected by political strife, and war-like conditions that have accelerated habitat destruction. Habitat destruction through civil war i.e. in Syria. In Iraq, the location which the Sand Cat was recorded from (Mohammad et al. 2013) falls within the Arabian Desert and East Sahero-Arabian Xeric Shrublands (PA1303) which is considered to be “Critical/Endangered” (Republic of Iraq Ministry of Environment 2010, M. K. Mohammad pers. comm. 2016).

More recently, additional threats identified are the introduction of feral and domestic dogs and cats, creating direct competition for prey and through predation and disease transmission (Nowell and Jackson 1996, Ostrowski et al. 2003, Sliwa 2013, Sliwa et al. 2013). This applies particularly along roads through suitable habitat (Sliwa et al. 2013, Sliwa, pers. obs. 2015). They are also killed in traps laid out by inhabitants of oases targeting Red Fox, Rüppel’s Fox and Golden Wolf (jackal) Canis anthus or in retaliation for killing their chickens or Houbara and MacQueen's bustard Chlamydotis undulata / Ch. macqueenii (De Smet 1989, Dragesco-Joffé 1993). Locally, Sand Cats may be threatened by the pet trade (Banfield et al. 2014, P. Cunningham pers. comm. 2016). In Iran, Sand Cats are reported to get killed by shepherd dogs and trapped in snares set for other species (Ghadirian et al. 2016). They also get stuck in fences (Sher Shah and Cunningham 2008) and are vulnerable to indiscriminate trapping and poisoning of predators (Mallon and Budd 2011). There are occasional reports of Sand Cats shot in Saudi Arabia (M. Strauss pers. comm. 2008, Cunningham 2009).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Included on CITES Appendix II. Hunting of this species is prohibited in Algeria, Iran, Israel, Kazakhstan, Mauritania, Niger, Pakistan, Tunisia, and United Arab Emirates (Nowell and Jackson 1996). On the African continent, the Sand Cat inhabits several protected areas, including Tassili n'Ajjer and Ahaggar Cultural Parks (Algeria), Aïr and Ténéré National Reserve (Niger), and possibly Djebel Bou-Hedma Biosphere Reserve (Tunisia) (Sliwa 2013). In Iran, it has been reported from the Abbasabad Naein Reserve, Kavir and Touran National Park (Semnan Province), Shaskooh and Mozaffari protected areas, Siahkooh National Park (Yazd province) and in Moteh and Touran protected areas (Ghadirian et al. 2016, Farhadinia et al. 2008, Nowell and Jackson 1996). On the Arabian Peninsula, the Sand Cat was recorded in the protected areas of Mahazat As-Sayd (not in 2008/9), Saja/Umm Ar-rimth and Uruq Bani Ma'arid, Harrat al Harrah Reserve (Saudi Arabia), in the Wadi Rum (Jordan), and in Baynunah and Umm Al Zumul Reserves (UAE) (Strauss pers. obs., Mallon and Budd 2011, Banfield et al. 2014).

Captive breeding populations exist in the range countries at Al Wabra (Qatar), The Scientific Centre (Kuwait), Al Ain Zoo, and the Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife (UAE), Omani Wild Animals Breeding Centre (Oman), Zoological Center Tel Aviv-Ramat Gan, Hai Bar Yotvata NR, I. Meier Segals Garden for Zoological Research, Tel Aviv (Israel). There are also captive breeding populations in the USA and Europe (Breton 2015).

The development of reliable survey methods is urgently needed (Mallon and Budd 2011). Furthermore, studies on the behaviour and ecology of the Sand Cat are crucial to apply appropriate conservation measures.

Citation: Sliwa, A., Ghadirian, T., Appel, A., Banfield, L., Sher Shah, M. & Wacher, T. 2016. Felis margarita. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T8541A50651884. . Downloaded on 20 September 2018.
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