Sand Cat

(Felis margarita)




Facts about this animal

The Sand Cat is a small cat with an extremely broad face. The head-body length is 30-55 cm, and they body weight is 1.4-3.5 kg. The tail is about half of the head-body length, with a distally ringed, black tip. The ears are large (68-74 mm), broad and pointed with pronounced black tips. The backsides are rufous tawny. The coat colour is extremely pale sandy isabelline to grey straw ochre above with a poorly differentiated spinal band and some indistinct stripes and spots over the body. The under parts and inner sides of the rather short limbs are whitish. There is no marked sexual dimorphism.


The reproduction is seasonal in the wild depending on location (January – April in the Sahara, April in Turkmenistan, September – October in Pakistan) but not in captivity. After a gestation period of average 63 days two to four kittens are born. Sand cats grow rapidly and become sexually mature at an age of 14 months. In captivity they can grow 13 years old.

Did you know?
that sand cats have a unique way of moving? With their belly to the ground, they move at a fast run interrupted by occasional leaps.


Name (Scientific) Felis margarita
Name (English) Sand Cat
Name (French) Chat des sables
Name (German) Sandkatze
Name (Spanish) Gato de las arenas, Gato del Sahara
CITES Status Appendix II
CMS Status Not listed



Photo Copyright by
Adrian Pingstone



Range Four subspecies are found in the deserts of North Africa (F. margarita margarita), the Arabian Peninsula(F. margarita harrisoni), Pakistan (F. margarita scheffeli), and (former Soviet) Central Asia (F. margarita thinobia).
Habitat Sandy and stony deserts
Wild population Unknown, the number fluctuates depending on environmental conditions (Red List IUCN 2011)
Zoo population 172 live animals listed in the International Studbook (2007). 115 reported to ISIS (2007). Currently all sand cats in human care appear to be either scheffeli or harrisoni. The European population consists of only harrisoni, while the North American population consists of pure harrisoni and harrisoni x scheffeli.

In the Zoo

Sand Cat


How this animal should be transported

Transport crates should be sufficiently large to meet legal requirements and sufficiently strong to prevent escape or damage to the crate and animal. Basic design should allow free flow of air through multiple sides of the container. Preferably, a double door design at least on one end of the crate should be used. The "inner" door should have bars or wire mesh to contain the animal, and the "outer" door should consist of a thin panel of expanded metal or plywood that provides safety for the handlers and isolation for the animal. The doors should travel vertically to facilitate animal transfer and contain a secure locking system. The crate should drain well, and absorbent bedding should be used to prevent the animal from being exposed to or lying in urine or excreta.


The shipment should be organised in a way to minimise stress. The animal should have access to its transport crate for 2 weeks before shipment, preferably being fed within it. If an extended trip is anticipated, water and food as may be required should be provided while the animal is in transit.


 For air transport, Container Note 82 of the IATA Live Animals Regulations should be followed.


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Photo Copyright by
Alex Sliwa

Why do zoos keep this animal

The sand cat is a species for which an International Studbook has been established and, in North America, is part of AZA’s Species Survival Program (SSP) which works to ensure that the endangered cat will survive into the future. The sand cat SSP monitors bloodlines and chooses, which individuals should be set up in breeding programs working with cats kept in zoos around the world. A similar programme (EEP) is run in Europe by EAZA.


The sand cat is involved in numerous studies in zoos, as well as in the field. MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) is studying sand cat ears for acoustic measurements. Preliminary results suggest that their hearing is much more sensitive than other felid species. This adaptation may allow for hearing important sounds over long distances in their desert habitat. Reproductive studies are also being conducted by the Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (C.R.E.W.) to assist with the conservation breeding programme and genetic exchange between animals in different locations or individuals with behavioral and physical problems that interfere with natural breeding. There is very little information available on the sand cat’s ecology. An attempt is currently made to change this by conducting a field comparative study of the range and habitat use of the sand cat in degraded and protected rangelands of Saudi Arabia.