Sand cat Felis margarita
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The Latin name of this cat originates from a French general, Jean Auguste Margueritte, who first described the sand cat which he discovered on the boarder between Libya and Algeria. The sand cat is one of the smallest members of the felidae family; its body length is 65-90 cm (with the length of the tail comprising 40% of the whole body length), the height at the shoulder rarely exceeds 30 cm, and the weight of an adult male may range from 2 to 3.5 kg. The head of the sand cat is broad and slightly flattened, with a ruff of fur edging the sides of its face; the ears are very large and wide, without tufts; its eyes have yellow irises and slit pupils. The sand cat has short strong legs with paws covered with long tough hairs protecting the animal from burning its foot pads when it is moving through hot sand. Thick and soft coat of the sand cat keeps the animal warm during cold nights, and protective coloration of its fur makes this animal invisible on the background of the sand. In winter periods sand cats living in Central Asia grow thicker underfur of pale sandy color with grayish hint. The sand cats are found exclusively in hot arid regions of Central Asia, Arabian Peninsula, and Sahara. Their habitats are diverse, from sandy deserts with sparse vegetation to stony bushy valleys. They sometimes inhabit deserts and stony costal ridges. The sand cats are strictly nocturnal animals, and only representatives of the Pakistanian subspecies are active mostly in twilight in winter and early spring. During the day heat these animals stay in the burrows; they may use abandoned burrows of foxes or porcupines, or enlarge those dug by gerbils or other rodents. Sometimes they dig shallow burrows or holes where they hide in case of danger.
Like all other felids, the sand cat is a carnivore. Its preys are not only small rodents (gerbils, jerboas) but also nocturnal lizards and even poisonous snakes; it would not refuse eating insects and spiders, can sometimes kill cape hares and birds, and often destroys bird nests. The sand cats obtain most of the needed moisture with food and can live without water for a long time. Looking for prey during the night, the sand cat can cover an area of 8 squire kilometers. The sand cat does not disturb humans; even in the cold winters, when hunger makes many animals come close to human settlements, the sand cat usually ignores domestic animals preferring its typical prey. This carnivore hunts by hiding and waiting for the prey to come close. Most often the cat ambushes and grabs the prey by its neck, strongly shaking its victim. Then it tears the prey with its teeth and claws and eats it by pieces. After successful kill of a very large prey, the sand cat may skip its next night hunt and stay in its daytime burrow. The hunting territory of this animal can be more than 15 squire km.
Gestation in the sand cat lasts 59-63 days, and a litter of two to five kittens (sometimes up to 8) is usually born. The eyes of the kittens open when they are two weeks old, and at the age of five weeks they leave the den and start hunting with the adults. At the age of 6-8 months young cats become relatively independent though they reach sexual maturity only by the age of 9-14 months.
The sand cat is included in the CITES Appendix II; their numbers in 1996 were estimated at 50,000 adult individuals. Human activities are thought to be the major threat to the populations of the sand cat.