If you’ve ever spent time around a cat, then you know they can make themselves scarce when they want to. Equipped with innate stealth and also the ability to slip into the tiniest, weirdest places, cats are natural ninjas.
However, there’s a cat that puts all other cats to shame with its stealthiness.
In fact, this particular species of wild cat is so stealthy that they all managed to remain completely unseen in the Arabian Desert of the United Arab Emirates for more than 10 years.
That species is called the sand cat, the smallest species of wild cats. The look much like house cats, but you can spot the difference by their thickly furred feet and the extra ruffle of fur around their sweet little faces, sort of similar to how you can tell a bobcat from a house cat if you cannot see the tail.
Sand cats are truly masters of evasion, with coats the same color as the desert sands. The thick fur on their feet allows them to not only walk in silence, but to also leave barely any footprints in the sand.
Because of the rapid development over in the Emirates, and because of their naturally sneaky nature, it was difficult for scientists to pinpoint how many sand cats might be in the wild. Were they all gone, or were they just really good at hiding?
Shakeel Ahmed, who is an assistant scientist at Abu Dhabi’s Environment Agency, and a few of his colleagues decided to find out back in March of 2015. Setting up cameras and leaving various snacks out as bait, they waited patiently.
And after over a decade, they finally spotted some! It turns out the sand cat had been around the whole time. Now, that’s pretty sneaky.
Sand cats are little wild cats who actually make their homes in the deserts of North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.
Equipped with camouflaged coats and furry feet which make no sound and barely leave prints, these tiny felines are masters of stealth.
Their fur also helps them to regulate their own body temperature in the extreme heat and cold of the desert.
In fact, they’re so completely stealthy that no one had seen one in the United Arab Emirates for more than a decade, and conservationists were concerned about their fate.
So, Shakeel Ahmed and his colleagues from Abu Dhabi’s Environment Center decided to go ahead and investigate.
The decided to set up some cameras in the desert, and left out a few cans of yummy fish and chicken cat food to lure the cats out.
And then it happened! Between midnight and about 6 a.m., the team spotted a total of three sand cats. Sand cats are nocturnal, which also makes them harder to spot in the wild.
Interestingly enough, the sand cats all also preferred the chicken cat food to the fish.
Further research showed that the sand cats were actually more likely to come out during full moon nights.
It proved that the sand cats had truly been hiding the whole time, but they were definitely still there!
And just in case you’re wondering, yes, they’re adorable as babies, too.
Ahmed and his team will continue to study the cats so that they are able to create an ideal protected space for them in the desert.
They also hope that by raising people’s awareness of sand cats, they will be able to spur interest in environmental conservation in the Arabian Peninsula. Cute and fluffy, sand cats are truly terrific symbols for the region’s ecosystem.
“Sand cats are the perfect face for this message of sustained conservation commitment,”
the team stated.
Hopefully, these desert fur-balls will be able to enjoy a safe and healthy habitat for generations to come.