Almost Invisible Arabian Sand Cat Caught on Camera Trap for First Time in 10 Years

August 12, 2019 Updated: August 17, 2019

The cats that live in people’s homes are sneaky enough as it is. But there is a rare, wild species of house cat that is even sneakier.

The Arabian sand cat, which lives in deserts of Arabia, northern Africa, and central Asia, is so stealthy that it has managed to evade being seen for 10 years.

©Shutterstock | Yair Leibovich

Assistant scientist Shakeel Ahmed and a team of colleagues from the Abu Dhabi Environmental Agency set out to capture the cat on camera in March 2015. The last reported sighting was anecdotal in 2005.

The Arabian sand cat is nocturnal and closes its eyes when bright lights are shone to avoid being seen. It’s fur is also the same color as its sandy environment, making it incredibly difficult to spot.

The cat, which looks very similar to a house cat, is distinguished by its extra fur around its face and feet. That extra fur also allows the sneaky feline to leave virtually no footprints in the sand.

هل تعلم أن القط الرملي هو النوع الوحيد من القطط الذي يعيش في بيئة الكثبان الرملية؟ لقد تأقلم القط الرملي مع البيئة…

تم النشر بواسطة ‏‎Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi‎‏ في الاثنين، ٨ أغسطس ٢٠١٦

Shakeel and his team set up five motion-detecting trail camera traps in Baynouna, Abu Dhabi, and laid out chicken and fish-flavored cat food. A previous survey revealed that the cats preferred chicken cat food, so that’s what they mostly used.

Over the course of 278 trap nights, they took 46 pictures and identified 3 different sand cats, one of which was determined to be a male. The felines were captured between the hours of 0:00 and 6:00. Thirty-nine percent of the sightings were during full moon lunar phases.

It was the first confirmed sighting of the incredibly shy cat in the western region of Abu Dhabi since the unconfirmed sighting in 2005.

بعد انقطاع معلومات عن وجود القط الرملي العربي في إمارة أبوظبي منذ عام 2005 ، سجلت هيئة البيئة – أبوظبي عودته إلى البرية…

تم النشر بواسطة ‏‎Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi‎‏ في الاثنين، ١٥ أغسطس ٢٠١٦

Small in size and native to the desert, the sand cat (Felis margarita) should not be under estimated. This nocturnal…

تم النشر بواسطة ‏‎Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi‎‏ في الثلاثاء، ٨ يوليو ٢٠١٤

Because of the Arabian sand cat’s elusive nature, scientists still know very little about them.

“There’s an absence of scientists working on sand cats and very few assessments are being made to assess the behavior, population and status of the species,” says John Newby from the Sahara Conservation Fund. “Sand cats are naturally rare.”

They are known to be well adapted to the desert environment and have special hairs in their ears and on their feet to keep sand out.

Amazingly, the sand cat does not require water to drink, for it gets its hydration entirely from the birds, reptiles, and mammals that it hunts and eats.

©Shutterstock | Alexandr Junek Imaging

This mysterious feline is classified as “near threatened” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list, and as “endangered” in the United Arab Emirates.

Populations are thought to be declining mostly due to development and subsequent habitat loss.

The team hopes their research will assist in future conservation strategies, such as by comparing local populations with those of neighboring Oman and Saudi Arabia.

©Shutterstock | Pete Gallop

“It is clear that field research will all be extremely valuable in putting together conservations [sic] plans for the sand cats and their habitat, as well as pin-pointing those areas and their extent that may be turned into protected areas to conserve the cats,” said Newby. “Scientists need to be doing more research on how the sand cats live in order to create a suitable protected area.”