Felis margarita 

Scope: Global

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Carnivora Felidae

Scientific Name: Felis margarita
Species Authority: 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: Placed in the genus Felis according to genetic analysis (Johnson et al. 2006, O'Brien and Johnson 2007, Eizirik et al. submitted). Four subspecies have been classically described (Sliwa in press), 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: Near Threatened ver 3.1
Year Published: 2011
Date Assessed: 2008-07-01
Assessor(s): Mallon, D.P., Sliwa, A. & Strauss, M.
Reviewer(s): Nowell, K., Breitenmoser-Wursten, C., Breitenmoser, U. & Hoffmann, M.
The Sand Cat occurs at low densities and is often described as rare (Nowell and Jackson 1996, Sunquist and Sunquist 2002, Sliwa in press). Listed as Near Threatened due to concern over potential low population size and decline. The sand cat appears to have a markedly patchy and disjunct distribution. Unless its known range is expanded through additional confirmed records, it could potentially qualify as Vulnerable by having an effective population size <10,000, with no subpopulation having an effective size > 1,000. Degradation of desert ecosystems is widely acknowledged as an urgent conservation problem (Abahussain et al. 2002, Al-Sharhat et al. 2003), and could result in a decline of >30% in the Sand Cat population, caused by a declining small mammal prey base (criterion A4). There are few confirmed records (Hemmer et al. 1976, Sliwa in press) and the Sand Cat may have a broader distribution than presumed, qualifying for Least Concern. Further research is necessary to determine whether the precautionary listing of Near Threatened is warranted.
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:The Sand Cat is the only felid found primarily in true desert, and has a wide but apparently disjunct distribution through 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 in press), but there are no historical records despite intensive collecting effort (Hemmer et al. 1976).

In north Africa, Sliwa (in press) has summarized what is known of its distribution: the Sand Cat occurs marginally in western Morocco, including former Sahara Occidental, Algeria, and from the Sinai peninsula to the rocky deserts of eastern Egypt. Although there have been sightings, no specimens have been collected from Tunisia, Libya, or in Egypt, west of the Nile River. There are sight records from Mali (including a recent night time observation in the Lake Faguibine area: O. Hamerlynck pers. comm. 2011) and both specimens and sightings in Niger. In Mauritania, it is supposed to occur in the Adrar mountains and Majabat al Koubra. Thought to be present, but currently no specimens available, in Senegal and Chad, where spoor have been found, and also Sudan.

In Asia, there is a recent new country distribution record for Syria, around the area of Palmyra (Serra et al. in press). It is not known if the small populations of Sand Cats in Pakistan's Balochistan province are connected to the central Asian population via Afghanistan (Habibi 2004). It has been recorded from the desert regions west of the Caspian Sea (in northern Iran, Turkmenistan, 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).
Countries occurrence:
Algeria; Egypt; Iran, Islamic Republic of; Israel; Jordan; Kazakhstan; Kuwait; Mauritania; Morocco; Niger; Oman; Pakistan; Saudi Arabia; Syrian Arab Republic; Turkmenistan; United Arab Emirates; Uzbekistan; Western Sahara; Yemen
Additional data:
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:There are relatively few records of Sand Cats and they are often reported as rare (Sliwa in press). The only available density estimates come from a telemetry study in southern Israel, where 11 cats were caught in the study area of 15 x 25 km (375 km²) (M. Abbadi, in Sliwa in press). In Saudi Arabia, a study is underway in the Mahazat As-Sayd and Saja/Umm Ar-rimth Protected Areas. In the former, Sand Cats appear to occur at far lower densities than Rüppell's Fox (Strauss et al. 2007 and pers. comm. 2008). In low-quality habitat, such as shifting sand dunes, densities may be very low (Sliwa in press). Numbers may fluctuate in response to environmental conditions leading to prey declines and recoveries (Sunquist and Sunquist 2002).
Current Population Trend:Unknown
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Sand Cats are specialists of sandy desert, where they are unevenly distributed, localized around sparse vegetation which can support small rodent prey. They are also found in stony desert (Nowell and Jackson 1996). With thickly furred feet, the Sand Cat 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 in press), largely because of their fossorial (burrowing) behaviour (M. Strauss pers. comm. 2008). They are absent from areas where the soil is compacted (Heptner and Sludskii 1972).

Small rodents are their primary prey, with records from Africa including 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). They have also been observed to hunt small birds like Greater Hoopoe Lark (Alaemon alaudipes), Desert Lark (Ammomanes deserti), and consume reptiles such as 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, Sliwa in press). Sand-dwelling rodents made up the majority (65–88%) of stomach contents from carcasses collected in Turkmenistan and Uzebekistan in the 1960s (Schaenberg 1974). In Arabia the sand cat's distribution coincides with that of Sand Skinks and Arabian toad-head lizards; both reptiles are thought to be an important source of food for the cat (Sunquist and Sunquist 2002).

They are capable of rapid digging to extract the latter prey items (Schauenberg 1974). Sand Cats may cover kills with sand and return later to feed. Independent of drinking water they are capable of satisfying their moisture requirements from their prey, but drink readily if it is available (Sliwa in press). They appear to be primarily nocturnal (Abbadi 1993, Nowell and Jackson 1996).

Sand Cats have been recorded to move long distances in a single night (5–10 km), and a radio telemetry study in Israel suggests large home ranges, with one male using an area of 16 km² (Abbadi 1993). Annual ranges from the ongoing study in Saudi Arabia are larger, up to 40 km² (M. Strauss pers. comm. 2008).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Habitat degradation is the major threat to the sand cat. Vulnerable arid ecosystems are being rapidly degraded by human settlement and activity, especially livestock grazing (Allan and Warren 1993, Al-Sharhan et al. 2003). 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), or declines due to desertification and loss of natural vegetation.

Other localized threats include the introduction of feral and domestic dogs and cats, creating direct competition and through predation and disease transmission (Nowell and Jackson 1996). They also may be killed in traps laid out by inhabitants of oases targeting foxes and jackals or in retaliation for killing their chickens (De Smet 1989; Dragesco-Joffé 1993). There are occasional reports of animals shot in south-east Arabia (M. Strauss pers. comm.).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Included on CITES Appendix II. Hunting of this species is prohibited in Algeria, Iran, Israel, Kazakhstan, Mauritania, Niger, Pakistan and Tunisia (Nowell and Jackson 1996). On the African continent, Sand Cats are recorded from several protected areas, including Tassili n'Ajjer and Ahaggar National Parks (Algeria), Aïr and Tenere National Reserve (Niger), and Djebel Bou-Hedma Biosphere Reserve (Tunisia) (Sliwa in press). In Saudi Arabia, a study is underway in the Mahazat As-Sayd and Saja/Umm Ar-rimth Protected Areas (Strauss et al. 2007), while records also exist from the 'Uruq Bani Ma'arid Protected Area (Strauss pers. obs.) In Iran it has been reported from the Moteh and Touran protected areas (Nowell and Jackson 1996).

There is a need for more fine-scale distribution studies and estimates of home range and density.

Classifications [top]

8. Desert -> 8.1. Desert - Hot
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
1. Land/water protection -> 1.1. Site/area protection

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
  Occur in at least one PA:Yes
In-Place Species Management
In-Place Education
  Included in international legislation:Yes
  Subject to any international management/trade controls:Yes
1. Residential & commercial development -> 1.1. Housing & urban areas
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

2. Agriculture & aquaculture -> 2.3. Livestock farming & ranching -> 2.3.1. Nomadic grazing
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.1. Ecosystem conversion
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

5. Biological resource use -> 5.1. Hunting & trapping terrestrial animals -> 5.1.2. Unintentional effects (species is not the target)
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

5. Biological resource use -> 5.1. Hunting & trapping terrestrial animals -> 5.1.3. Persecution/control
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

8. Invasive & other problematic species & genes -> 8.1. Invasive non-native/alien species -> 8.1.1. Unspecified species
♦ timing:Future    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

8. Invasive & other problematic species & genes -> 8.1. Invasive non-native/alien species -> 8.1.2. Named species [ Canis familiaris ]
♦ timing:Future    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

8. Invasive & other problematic species & genes -> 8.1. Invasive non-native/alien species -> 8.1.2. Named species [ Felis catus ]
♦ timing:Future    
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

8. Invasive & other problematic species & genes -> 8.2. Problematic native species
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation

11. Climate change & severe weather -> 11.2. Droughts
♦ timing:Ongoing    
→ Stresses
  • 1. Ecosystem stresses -> 1.2. Ecosystem degradation
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.3. Indirect species effects -> 2.3.7. Reduced reproductive success

1. Research -> 1.2. Population size, distribution & trends
1. Research -> 1.3. Life history & ecology
1. Research -> 1.5. Threats
1. Research -> 1.6. Actions
3. Monitoring -> 3.1. Population trends

Bibliography [top]

Abahussain, A.A., Abdu, A.S., Al-Zubari, W.K., El-Deen, N.A. and Abdul-Raheem, M. 2002. Desertification in the Arab region: analysis of current status and trends. Journal of Arid Environments 51: 521-545.

Abbadi, M. 1993. Israel's elusive feline: sand cats. Cat News 18: 15-16.

Allan, T. and Warren, A. 1993. Deserts: the encroaching wilderness. IUCN and Mitchell Beazley, London, UK.

Al-Sharhan, A.S., Wood, W.W., Goudie, A.S., Fowler, A. and Abdellatif, E.M. 2003. Desertification in the Third Millennium. Swets and Zeltinger, Lisse, Netherlands.

De Smet, K. 1989. The distribution and habitat choice of larger mammals in Algeria, with special reference to nature protection. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Ghent.

Dragesco-Joffe, A. 1993. Le chat des sables, un redoutable chasseur de serpents [The sand cat - a formidable snake hunter]. La Vie Sauvage du Sahara, pp. 129 pp.. Delachaux et Niestlé, Lausanne, Switzerland.

Eizirik, E., Johnson, W.E. and O'Brien, S.J. Submitted. Molecular systematics and revised classification of the family Felidae (Mammalia, Carnivora). Journal of Mammalogy. [see http://dobzhanskycenter.bio.spbu.ru/pdf/sjop/MS636%20Eizirik%20Felid%20Taxonomy.pdf]

Habibi, K. 2004. Mammals of Afghanistan. Zoo Outreach Organisation/USFWS, Coimbatore, India.

IUCN. 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (ver. 2011.2). Available at: http://www.iucnredlist.org. (Accessed: 10 November 2011).

Johnson, W.E., Eizirik, E., Pecon-Slattery, J., Murphy, W.J., Antunes, A., Teeling, E. and O'Brien, S.J. 2006. The late Miocene radiation of modern Felidae: A genetic assesstment. Science 311: 73-77.

Nowell, K. and Jackson, P. 1996. Wild Cats. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

O'Brien, S.J. and Johnson, W E. 2007. The evolution of cats. Scientific American July: 68-75.

Serra, G., Abdallah, M.S. and Al Quaim, G. 2007. Occurrence of Ruppell's fox Vulpes rueppelli and Sand cat Felis margarita in Syria. Zoology in the Middle East 42: 99-101.

Sliwa, A. 2013. Felis margarita. In: J. S. Kingdon and M. Hoffmann (eds), The Mammals of Africa, Academic Press, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Strauss, W. M., Shobrak, M. and Sher Shah, M. 2007. First trapping results from a new sand cat study in Saudi Arabia. Cat News 47: 20-21.

Sunquist, M. and Sunquist, F. 2002. Wild Cats of the World. University of Chicago Press.

Citation: Mallon, D.P., Sliwa, A. & Strauss, M. 2011. Felis margarita. In: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2011: e.T8541A12917127. . Downloaded on 24 August 2016.
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