Scientist in the United Arab Emirates are excited about the first pictures ever taken of three distinct Arabian sand cats in the wild. Arabian sand cats (Felis margarita harrisoni) is a subspecies of sand cats that is so evasive that not much is known about them. Scientist hope that the new pictures can tell them more about how the species is surviving in the wild and what can be done to help them.
John Newby, who works with the Sahara Conservative Fund, told Natasha Khaleeq from New Scientist, that there are very few scientist that studying sand cats, leading to a scarcity of information about their behavior, population, and condition of the breed.
Sand cats have been categorized as near threatened for over ten years because of their disintegrating numbers. They inhabit the deserts of Southwest and Central Asia as well as North Africa. Arabian sand cats, as a subspecies, are rare and on the endangered species list. They’ve only been seen in the wild a few times with the last known sighting reported ten years ago in Abu Dhabi.
This inspired scientist Shakeel Ahmed, who works for the Environmental Agency – Abu Dhabi, to organize a team of researchers and in an effort learn more about the rare feline. In 2015, Ahmed and his team waited 278 long nights, equipped with camera traps, baited with food, before they finally caught their first sight of the elusive Arabian sand cat. By the end of their mission, the team of scientist were able gather an unthinkable 46 pictures of the species.
According to their analysis, they think the pictures are of three different sand cats who happen to live in close proximity. The pictures were all taken at night, leading them to believe that the felines prefer lower temperatures over the hotter desert days, which can vary thirty degrees or more. According to a report released by the team of scientist, out of the three cats that were observed and recorded, one was a male. The report also says that the cats came out between midnight and six in the morning 80% of the time, with 39% of the time happening during the full moon phase.
Other than the Arabian sand cats, the researchers were able to examine other animals on film, like the Cheeseman’s gerbil and reptiles like the Arabian sand skinks, which gives the scientist an insight to the sand cat’s diet. Ahmed and his team feel confident that the results of their research will help gain a better understanding of the rare cats and hopefully prevent their extinction.
John Newby expressed optimism when he told the New Scientist that the information gathered from that field research will help biologists create conservation plans to protect the sand cats and their habitat. It will also help them identify potential future problems and how to prevent them.
According to Newby, the scientific community needs to put more effort in studying the rare felines in order to provide a plan on how to protect their living area.