Led by Shakeel Ahmed, a scientist at Abu Dubai’s Environmental Agency, a team of researchers has begun to check the accuracy of a prediction. According to that predication, the world contains only 250 sand cats. Ahmed and his team launched their efforts after getting word that such a feline had caught the eyes of someone in the Arab Emirates.
Unlike house cats, the felines that live in sandy areas such as Saudi Arabia exist in the wild. Yet during the past ten years, no reports had come in from someone that had seen a sand cat in the wild. Ahmed and is team decided to focus their time and energy on discovering just how many of the felines with the especially light coat remained in the surrounding region.
The cat’s light coat, one of its distinguishing features, makes it difficult to spot. In the wild, it tends to blend in with the sand-colored background. A tracker might suggest looking for footprints in the sandy ground. However, the cat’s special footpads leave a footprint that is almost impossible to identify.
Faced with those challenges, Ahmed’s team decided to set up a group of five camera traps. In order to lure a feline to such a trap, the researchers used chicken and fish flavored cat food. The researchers then put their traps in a protected preserve.
For one month the team’s members took turns watching the five spots where they hoped to spot a sand cat. After one month their efforts were rewarded. Following the sighting of that first sand-colored creature, the group added a few more lure-equipped cameras.
By December of 2015 Ahmed and his team felt ready to review the snapped images. Their review showed that the traps had provided them with 46 images of the feline that seemed to belong on a list of endangered species. The best news concerned the conclusions that resulted from an inspection of those 46 pictures.
That inspection showed that at least three sand cats inhabited or at least visited the studied area of the preserve. Close examination of the pictures revealed the sex of those three felines. One was male, and two were female. Nature appeared ready to encourage creation of a new family of felines.
Yet creation of a baby cat does not represent a guarantee that the size of a species will expand. The babies must have room to grow up, to spread out and to live in the wild. Hence those that care about the possible endangerment of a species must prevent destruction of that same species’ habitat.
Indeed, species with narrow habitat requirements face a greater chance of becoming endangered than those that can live almost anywhere. In addition, an animal with highly specialized adaptations appears more likely to end up on a list of endangered species.
Those facts indicate that the effort begun by Ahmed and his team has taken only a few preliminary steps. In order to improve the sand cat’s chances for surviving as a species, its habits and habitat need to become the focus of an intensive investigation. At the same time scientist should work to ensure survival of the cat’s prey, small reptiles and rodents.
Such effort should keep the caves around Abu Dubai populated with sand-colored felines. Moreover, when that same cat leaves its cave at night, it will be able to find the food that it seeks. In that way the number of sand cats in the region should rise to an acceptable level.