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By Diane Small
After enjoying a holiday in Dubai, I was surprised to discover that the Arabian desert is actually home to animals beyond snakes and birds. In fact, there are numerous exotic mammals in the region, many of which are on the verge of extinction.
Take the Sand Cat, for example. The smallest of all the wild cats, Sand Cats are about the size of domestic cats and are found in the deserts of northern Africa and central Asia. They are distinctive due to their sandy colour and large, pointed ears.
Because the animals live in vast, arid locations, they’re difficult to study, and population estimates aren’t available, but we know that these adorable cats are mainly threatened by habitat loss due to all the massive construction going on in the Gulf, hunting for their pelts or for sports with falcons, collection for the pet trade, and of course due to wars in the Middle East such as Desert Storm. Despite CITIES making their capture and sale illegal, there are still many sites that blatantly offer these endangered creatures up for money, and many wealthy people in the region keep them as pets with impunity.
Sadly, the sand cat went completely extinct in Israel due to habitat destruction following the territorial exchange between Israel and Jordan in 1994, but there are conservation centres trying to help save the Sand Cat. One such centre is in Doha, Qatar, called al Wabra, and was founded by the animal-loving Shiekh Saoud Bin Mohammed Bin Ali Al Thani. His adoration for these creatures led him to assemble an international team of expert vets, biologists and keepers to help care for and conserve Sand Cats, as well as many other rare and endangered animals. Another centre is Big Cat Rescue, which is mainly focused on tigers, lions and other larger cat species.
You would think that these truly rare and gorgeous cats would be the perfect ‘poster species’ for conservation, yet little is written about them, and some who keep them as pets don’t even realise how they could be contributing to the demise of these beautiful animals. If you’d like to help ensure the future of the sand cat, please share this article, or click here for more information.