The Arabian sand cat has blonde hair, chiseled features, and is deeply mysterious. It’s been 10-odd years since these famously handsome felines have been sighted in the wilds of the United Arab Emirates. But thanks to some new research, scientists have finally spotted a handful in the dusty fringes of Abu Dhabi.
The Arabian sand cat (Felis margarita harrisoni) can be found in the deserts of North Africa, Arabia, and Central Asia. This subspecies has managed to avoid the gaze of anyone in this area of Abu Dhabi since an unconfirmed sighting in 2005. Its wide distribution across these deserts and its rarity have no doubt contributed to the lack of sightings.
However, it's also because the cat spends most of its time slinking around at night. This sand cat subspecies is a nocturnal hunter, so it also only comes out to forage when the heat has left the desert and the Sun is down. It’s so well adapted to living in desert conditions that it does not need to drink water. Instead, it acquires all its hydration from its prey. Its coloring also means it camouflages neatly against the sand dunes and rocks.
So to catch sight of the stealthy hunters, researchers from the Environment Agency in Abu Dhabi set up five camera traps in the Baynouna, a protected area of Abu Dhabi, specially equipped with bright flashes.
One of the sand cats seen on the camera traps. Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi.
In total, they managed to snap an impressive 46 photographs of the Arabian sand cats over 278 nights. Not only are the photographs promising in their own right, the scientists hope they can also provide some insight into the life and behavior of the sand cat to aid in their conservation.
Nearly 80 percent of the sightings were between midnight and 6am, and 39 percent were recorded during the full Moon phase. Statistical analysis of temperature recordings near the camera traps showed that the Arabian sand cat typically waits for medium to low temperatures before it goes out foraging.
The full findings of the recent study can be found in The European Journal of Wildlife Research.
Another photography from the camera trap "photo-shoot." Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi.