Sand cat (Photo: DJJAM)

Sand cat (Photo: DJJAM)

Inhabiting the deserts of northern Africa and western and central Asia, the sand cat is the world’s only cat that lives primarily in true desert conditions. Little is known about its behavioural ecology. Nocturnal and elusive, the sand cat is considered rare in the wild. However, there is still a lot of research to be done as few reliable records or sightings of these cats currently exist.

The sand cat is one of the five small cat species with which the Zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) works on its Small Cat Signature Project.  In addition to conducting zoo-based research on the reproductive biology of the sand cat, the Zoo also supports field research in the Moroccan Sahara.

Studying the ecology and behavior of sand cats in Morocco

Tracking sand cats in the desert (Photo: Alex Sliwa)

Tracking sand cats in the desert (Photo: Alex Sliwa)

In 2013, Dr. Alex Sliwa (Curator at the Cologne Zoo, Germany) and Grégory Breton (Assistant Director and Curator at Le Parc des Félins, France) embarked on a self-financed expedition to the Moroccan Sahara where they were able to observe sand cats, fennec foxes, African wild cats, and other local fauna.  During the expedition, they identified three sand cats, encouraging them to pursue a field project focusing on the Moroccan Sahara sand cat (Felis margarita margarita).

The Zoo helps fund this pioneering field research on the ecology and behavior of the sand cat in this region. Initiated in 2015, Sliwa and Breton’s team collect data by fitting individual sand cats with radio-collars and using radio-tracking equipment to monitor their movements.  This groundbreaking research is necessary to develop an understanding of how this species is able to navigate and survive in desert conditions. Read the latest report here.