Thursday, August 21, 2014

Ferocious Wild Beasties

A small sleeping Sand Cat at the Hogle Zoo looks very much like a domestic cat
-photo: M Love
The Hogle Zoo outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, is home to a lot of beautiful wild cats of all kinds, including these little Sand Cats which are adorable and don't look dangerous at all!

Sand Cats are the smallest of all wild cats.  They are approximately the size of small domestic cats, weighing in around 4 - 8 pounds, reaching lengths of no more than 36 inches, and heights of 10-12 inches.   In other words, they are smaller than my little cat, Jack!

Of course, they really are dangerous and quite wild, no matter how cute they look in these photos.

From the ISEC website - a little sand cat in motion
Sand Cats live all across the Sahara Desert, from Morocco in the west to as far as Egypt and the Sudan in the east.  They also occur in the Middle East and there is thought to be a small population of them in Central Asia.

These are true desert dwellers, with numerous adaptations to an arid lifestyle, and a soft and dense sandy brown coat that blends in well with their environment.

Their thick coat - they even have long, dense hairs covering the soles of their feet - insulates them well from both the hot sands and intense desert cold and helps them to move easily over shifting surfaces without sinking.

Tradition holds that these tiny cats were the companions of the Prophet Mohammed and his daughter.

Another little cutie pie Sand Cat at the Hogle Zoo.
These cats are nocturnal and sleep during the day
In the Sahara they are known as "the cat that digs holes".  The Sand Cat burrows to dig rodents out of the sand for food, and also digs burrows for shelter.

Sand Cats are listed as Near Threatened in the wild.  Because they live in vast, arid locations, they're difficult to study and it's also difficult to estimate their numbers.  However, they are threatened by habitat loss, hunting, and collection for the pet trade.

According to the Mother Nature Network, they went extinct in Israel around 1994.  Since then, the Zoological Center of Tel Aviv has been working with a European breeding program to improve their numbers.  A litter of four sand cat kittens was born at there in 2012, so things have been looking up since then.

They are certainly among the cutest endangered species in the world.

Rotem, the Sand Cat from Germany and her four little Sand Cat kittens
In Tel Aviv, Rotem, the little female Sand Cat shown above with her litter, came from Germany in 2010 to be a part of this new breeding program.  She was paired with Sela, a male cat from Poland.  Zoo officials were a bit worried about the tiny kittens at first, but Rotem turned out to be a wonderful mother and all the four kittens were healthy and happy.

The kittens were transferred to other zoos once they were old enough to leave their mother.  In this way, it is hoped the breed can continue to reproduce and be saved from extinction.

At the Hogle Zoo in Utah, they are listed as the "Arabian Sand Cat" and given the title of "SSP Animal".  This designates an animal that is in danger.  The SSP, or Species Survival Plan is a program that began in 1981 as a cooperative population management and conservation program for selected species in zoos and aquariums across North America.  The Hogle, and other Zoos like them, are helping preserve the Sand Cat through breeding programs, research and public education.

There are no Sand Cats at the Los Angeles Zoo, however, they have a sweet couple over at The Cat House, the EFBC's Feline Conservation Center in Rosamond, California, which is in the Antelope Valley about 20 miles north of Palmdale in northern Los Angeles County.

The Cat House is home to more than 70 feline residents, including these cuties (I love these 'mug shots'!):

Fath, a male Sand Cat
Born in October, 2009 at the Cincinnati Zoo, he came to California in 2011
Freta, Fath's girlfriend
Born in 2011 in Tallin, Estonia
Freta came to California in 2013.  They make a cute couple, don't they?

If you'd like to know more about the Sand Cat, and how to help in their preservation, you can visit the following sites:

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