Sand Cat Project

Hawk Creek welcomed three Sand Cats named Juba, Sahara and Nyala in the spring of 2018. This trio was imported from war-torn Sudan and has spent the last year getting healthy, acclimated, maturing and getting acquainted with one another. Very little is understood about these shy cats and the effect of war on their population. Through extensive monitoring via cameras, we have been able to study the behavior of these secretive cats and record their activities and courtship behaviors.

Sand Cats are the only species of felid that lives exclusively in the desert. Their geographic range can be found in North Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East. Researchers have discovered they are almost impossible to study. It took researchers from the Wild Cat Conservation Group FOUR years and FIVE expeditions to even get the chance to photograph three sand cat kittens in Morocco. You may be asking: “How is this possible?” “How are they so hard to find?” The Sand Cat has a sand-colored coat that makes it incredibly difficult to spot against the elements. They also have furry paws which mean they leave almost no footprints in the sand. During the day, they stay tucked away in their burrows, only coming out at night to hunt. If you try and spot them they will duck, flatten their ears and squint their eyes to try and stay undetected. This makes the data collected via our monitoring crucial to understanding this rare species.

Habitat degradation is the Sand Cats main threat to survival. This is caused mainly by human settlement and livestock grazing. Their prey depends heavily on having adequate vegetation; no vegetation=no food. Because of this, they are classified as “Near Threatened” on the IUCN Red List. This is where we can help! Our three resident Sand Cats will be part of a breeding group. Captive breeding is critical in situations like these, and a lot of planning goes into it! You want to preserve the genetic diversity that is present in the captive and wild populations. By doing this, you keep the variability in the population high, which will give the population a greater chance to survive in the wild. When a wild population is on the brink of extinction, anything could completely wipe out the species. Harsh weather, disease, or even inbreeding could result in weaknesses that the species would not recover from. This is where captive populations come into play. With the captive population that is genetically diverse and the wild population that is dwindling, different facilities will try to facilitate breeding. If successful, a formal re-introduction strategy can then be devised to release the captive bred population into a semi-wild environment, then eventually into a completely wild environment to save the species! By doing this, captive facilities have saved species such as the California condor, American bison, Red wolves and the Scimitar horned oryx from the brink of extinction! We aren’t quite there yet with Sand Cats, but we are currently ensuring that the captive population is genetically diverse just in case their wild counterparts dwindle even more in the wild.