Adorable, elusive sand cat spotted for the first time in a decade

August 9, 2016, 11:13 a.m.
A sand cat peeks out from rocks
Photo: Yair Leibovich/Shutterstock

Yep, it's cat news, but this isn't your average cat. Not by a long shot.

The Arabian sand cat (Felis margarita harrisoni) is a small feline that could easily be mistaken for a house cat at first glance. But don't be fooled by the big-eared, fluffy-faced good looks. This is a very wild and elusive species perfectly adapted to living in harsh desert conditions. The cats are so secretive, in fact, that there hasn't been a sighting of one in over 10 years.

That is, until Shakeel Ahmed of The Environement Agency, Abu Dhabi decided to set out cameras and see if this little-known species could be spotted.

New Scientist reports:

In 2015, he led a team studying the animals and plants of the Baynouna – a protected area in Abu Dhabi. They baited camera traps with cat food over several months and eventually managed to get 46 photos, which the team later identified as being of three individuals... The team hopes this information will help inform future conservation strategies. For example, it could be useful for work comparing the relatedness of this population to those in neighbouring Oman and Saudi Arabia.

In order to survive in the desert, sand cats have evolved features such as large ears to dissipate heat, fur-covered paws to protect them from hot sand, and of course, nocturnal hunting behavior. Their small size, stealthy movement, sand-colored fur and of course their preference for nighttime activity all make it next to impossible to see, let alone study, these amazing felines.