Aug 10, 2016 I Brett Tingley

The Mystery Of The Rare Arabian Sand Cat

One of the world’s most elusive animals has been spotted in the wild after a mysterious ten-year gap in sightings. That animal is none other than the Arabian sand cat, Felis margarita harrisoni. While not quite as exciting as Bigfoot, discovering the presence of the sand cat is nonetheless important for understanding the health of desert ecosystems. 

Felis margarita harrisoni, the Arabian Sand Cat.

A recent publication in the European Journal of Wildlife Research has confirmed the presence of the rare cat close to Abu Dhabi:

A total of three individuals were recorded of which one was confirmed as a male. About 80 % of the sightings were between 00:00 and 06:00 h, and 39 % were recorded during the full moon phase. These are the first confirmed sightings of the presence of Arabian sand cat in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi Emirate after an unconfirmed sighting reported in 2005.

To make this discovery, scientists with The Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) set up remote cameras baited with cat food throughout the wilds of Abu Dhabi deserts. Their cameras caught three different individuals in a total of forty-six pictures.

The Arabian sand cat is rarely seen in the wild.

Sightings of the Arabian sand cat are particularly rare, despite the fact that the cat’s distribution spreads across the entirety of North Africa and the Arabian peninsula and well into Central Asia. Due to a lack of sightings and, well, interest in the cat, very little is known about the species. Because of the lack of information, scientists aren’t even sure if the cat is endangered or not.

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While the Arabian sand cat is rarely seen in its natural habitat, several zoos do have specimens in captivity.

This new sighting could revive interest (and funding) in studying the rare Arabian sand cat. John Newby of the Sahara Conservation Fund told New Scientist that the findings could be vital for protecting existing Arabian sand cat populations:

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

Sorry, crazy cat ladies. the Arabian sand cat has but one love: the open sands of the desert.

Despite the confirmed sighting of the rare Arabian sand cat, Pokémon GO players are advised not to travel to Abu Dhabi to try and catch the animal, as deserts are hot and Pokéstops are few and far between.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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