If you’ve ever been around a cat, you know they can make themselves scarce when they want to. Equipped with innate stealth and the ability to slip into the tiniest, weirdest places, cats are natural ninjas. But there’s a cat that puts all other cats to shame with its stealthiness. In fact, this species of wild cat is so stealthy that they all managed to remain completely unseen in the Arabian Desert of the United Arab Emirates for more than 10 years. That species is the sand cat, the smallest species of wild cats. The look a lot like house cats, but you can spot the difference by their thickly furred feet and the extra ruffle of fur around their sweet little faces, sort of similar to how you can tell a bobcat from a house cat if you can’t see the tail.
Sand cats are masters of evasion, with coats the same color as the desert sands. The thick fur on their feet allows them to not only walk silently, but to also leave barely any footprints in the sand. Because of the rapid development in the Emirates, and because of their naturally sneaky nature, it was hard for scientists to pinpoint how many sand cats might be in the wild. Were they gone, or were they just really good at hiding? Shakeel Ahmed, an assistant scientist at Abu Dhabi’s Environment Agency, and a few of his colleagues decided to find out back in March of 2015. Setting up cameras and leaving some snacks out as bait, they waited patiently.
And after over a decade, they spotted some! It turns out the sand cat had been around the whole time. Now, that’s sneaky.
Sand cats are little wild cats who make their homes in the deserts of North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Equipped with camouflaged coats and furry feet that make no sound and barely leave prints, these tiny felines are masters of stealth.
Their fur also helps them regulate their body temperature in the extreme heat and cold of the desert.
In fact, they’re so stealthy that no one had seen one in the United Arab Emirates for more than a decade, and conservationists were concerned about their fate.
So, Shakeel Ahmed and his colleagues from Abu Dhabi’s Environment Center decided to investigate. The set up some cameras in the desert, and left out a few cans of yummy fish and chicken cat food to lure the cats out.
Further research showed that the sand cats were more likely to come out during full moon nights. It proved that the sand cats had been hiding the whole time, but they were definitely still there!
And in case you’re wondering, yes, they’re adorable as babies, too. Ahmed and his team will continue to study the cats so they can create an ideal protected space for them in the desert.
They also hope that by raising people’s awareness of sand cats, they can spur interest in environmental conservation in the Arabian Peninsula. Cute and fluffy, sand cats would make great symbols for the region’s ecosystem.
“Sand cats are the perfect face for this message of sustained conservation commitment,” the team said.
Hopefully, these desert fluff-balls will get to enjoy a safe and healthy habitat for generations to come.
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