It looks like a house cat.
But it is not.
Not at all.
In fact, it’s about the rarest cat in the world.
Blink and you’ll miss it. The sand cat is a shy and secretive animal only seen in the desert at night.
It’s a nocturnal hunter perfectly adapted to its desert home. It doesn’t need to drink water as it can get all it needs from the small birds, reptiles and mammals that are its prey. Special hairs in its ears and on its paws keep the sand out.
Despite its wide distribution across the deserts of North Africa, Arabia and Central Asia, little is known about this elusive species.
“There’s an absence of scientists working on sand cats and very few assessments are being made to assess the behaviour, population and status of the species,” says John Newby of the Sahara Conservation Fund.
Lack of records and difficulty in spotting it means we don’t even know how well it is faring. Sand cats are listed as “near threatened” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list and as endangered in the United Arab Emirates, where the Al Ain Zoo is a hotspot for captive breeding programmes to try to conserve the species.
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