Four sand cat kittens were born at the Zoological Center of Tel Aviv in Israel, in a country where they’ve been extinct since the 1990s.
Rotem, the zoo’s female sand cat that arrived from Germany in 2010, gave birth to the kittens about three weeks ago.
“In the beginning of August, we were very happy to find two tiny kittens in the depth of the den with Rotem. On the next day the keepers already saw three and on the next one they were surprised to find a fourth one,” says Sagit Horowitz, a spokeswoman for the zoo.
Rotem was paired with Sela, a male cat from Poland, as part of a European breeding program for sand cats, a species listed as “near threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Sand cats typically give birth to an average of three kittens, and at first zoo workers were concerned that four might be a bit of an undertaking for Rotem.
“We were very worried in the beginning if she could deal with four kittens. It's a lot of work, but she's doing perfectly and all the kittens are healthy and happy,” said Keren Or, the zoo’s information coordinator.
Now that the kittens are a few weeks old, they’re leaving the den and exploring their exhibit, much to the delight of visitors. Once they’re old enough to leave their mother, the kittens will be transferred to other zoos to help the species continue to reproduce.
Like many other desert animals, sand cats will drink water when it’s available, but they can survive off the water they obtain from their food. In the wild, they hunt at night, typically eating rodents, hares, birds and reptiles.
The animals have large furry pads between their toes to help them cope with hot desert sand, and their oversized ears help them disperse heat.
Sand cats are native to both Asia and Africa. According to the Jerusalem Zoo, the species went extinct in Israel due to habitat destruction following the territorial exchange between Israel and Jordan in 1994.
See more photos of the adorable sand cat kittens below.
Photos: Tibor Jäger
More cat stories on MNN: