Aww!
Photographer captures rare footage of “Sand Kittens” in the wild
These babies are hard to spot because they blend in so well.
Jessica
05.09.22

Wild sand cats are exactly what they sound like – cats that not only live in the desert (those in North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia, to be exact) but are also the color of sand.

Because they are relatively rare and blend in with their surroundings, they’re pretty hard to spot.

And their kittens weren’t caught on video until just a few years ago.

The sand cat species

If you’re a cat person, you’re bound to find them adorable.

These fluffy cats have big green-yellow eyes, white furry cheeks, and speckled black bands across their coats and tails.

And while they’re very small creatures, their big, furry bellies make them look much bigger than they really are.

Even their little kitty toes are covered in thick fur, which keeps them from damaging their skin on the hot sand of their natural habitats (or in the nighttime cold desert air).

You can tell which tracks are theirs because they walk with their claws out.

And while we really want one, they’re both illegal and unethical to keep as pets.

Spotted for the first time

While there are sand cats (and kittens) in zoos around the world, the first photos and video of the kittens in the wild were taken by Grégory Breton, the Managing Director of Panthera France.

He described coming across them on a trip to Morocco.

After a 7-hour drive through the Sahara, he was chatting with his driver to keep him awake at 2:30 am. His colleague was perched on the roof of their Land Cruiser shining spotlights into the bushes:

“Then, it happened. Three pairs of eyes gleamed back at Alexander through the darkness about 4 kilometers from our campsite. They belonged to young sand cats, yellowish, small wild cats with broader faces and larger ears than domestic cats,” he said.

Caught on camera

The Felis margarita isn’t afraid of much, perhaps in part because their camouflage is so good. Still, Breton said finding the kittens was “astonishing.”

“We spent an hour taking pictures and videos and setting up camera traps in the hopes of recording some natural behavior once we left. Based on our experience with sand cat litters in captivity, we estimate they were six to eight weeks old—too small for collaring. We believe this was the first time researchers ever documented wild sand cat kittens in their African range.”

Studying sand cats

There is a project tracking sand cats in the Moroccan Sahara, and the team noticed an adult female nearby with a tracker, perhaps the kittens’ mother. She was pacing nervously, but they made sure to carefully pack up and leave without causing much disturbance.

“To date, we’ve spotted 29 different sand cats, radio-collared 13 of them, and collected some surprising data. For instance, sand cats are traveling more than we thought and more than what’s been recovered for any other small cats. But we still don’t know why—yet,” Breton said.

They hope their work will help protect the species.

It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it

It sounds like a dream job, but Breton described just how hard it is to protect a species.

“Tracking sand cats is fun, but demanding because of the tough landscape and high temperatures. A typical day in the field involves waking up at 8 a.m., recording the daytime resting locations of the collared cats when we can find them, napping in the afternoon after a meal cooked and eaten in the shade of rare acacia trees or in one of our tents, and setting out again between sunset and sunrise. This is when sand cats are active and the best period to collect their movement data and observe their behaviors.”

With no luxuries like electricity or bathrooms, it’s anything but glamorous.

But on the other hand, there are kittens!

Be sure to scroll down below to see the first footage of the kittens, they are adorable!

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By Jessica
hi@sbly.com
Jessica is a contributor at SBLY Media.
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