the sand dune cat (Felis margarita)

The sand cat (Felis margarita), also known as the sand dune cat, is the only cat living chiefly in true deserts. This small cat is widely distributed in the deserts of North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. Starting in 2002, it was listed as near threatened on the IUCN Red List because the population was considered fragmented and small with a declining trend. It was downlisted to least concern in 2016.

Owing to long hairs covering the soles of its feet, the sand cat is well adapted to the extremes of a desert environment and tolerant of extremely hot and cold temperatures.It inhabits both sandy and stony deserts, in areas far from water sources.

In fact, watching it again, we’re almost back to being convinced of the cartoon thing. But if we’re to believe Panthera (and, OK, we believe ’em) this is actually incredibly rare footage of sand-cat kittens in the Saharan Desert of Morocco, taken in April and just recently released.

Sand cats may look like dainty little pet felines, but they’re hardy as can be, enduring the desert’s dramatic temperature swings by sheltering in burrows or beneath rocks and shrubs, and persisting in parched wastes by getting most of their moisture from prey. Should these Moroccan kittens survive, they’ll become adept stalkers (and digger-uppers) of mice, gerbils, jerboas and other rodents, plus small birds, lizards and snakes.

You can follow developments from the Sand Cat Sahara Research Team (which also keeps tabs on other striking native carnivores of the Moroccan Sahara, including fennec and Rüppell’s foxes and African wildcats) at its Facebook page.

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