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Look Who’s Back! World’s Most Elusive Cat Reappears After 10 Years in Time for International Cat Day

Aug 09, 2016 06:00 PM EDT
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Arabian Sand Cat
Mysterious, elusive, and totally enigmatic Arabian sand cat (Felis margarita harrisoni) is an understudied animal. This cat is so mysterious that its habits in the wild were only anecdotal tales.
(Photo : Becker1999/Creative Commons/Flickr)

Cats are known to be one of the moodiest animals. But there is no moodier than this cat from the deserts of Arabia, who disappeared 10 years ago.

Mysterious, elusive, and totally enigmatic Arabian sand cat (Felis margarita harrisoni) is an understudied animal. This cat is so mysterious that its habits in the wild were only anecdotal tales, according to Popular Science

Only seen in the desert at night, Arabian sand cat is a shy and secretive animal. It is perfectly adapted to its desert home because it is a nocturnal hunter. Special hairs in its ears and on its paws keep the sand out. It preys on small birds, reptiles, and mammals -- and it doesn't even drink water as it gets all its needs from its preys, New Scientist reports.

Little is known about this elusive species, despite its wide distribution across the deserts of North Africa, Arabia and Central Asia. The Arabian sand cat has only been documented in the wild anecdotally in the western part of the United Arab of Emirates, and even such records date to 10 years or more ago.

However, in March 2015, Shakeel Ahmed, an assistant scientist at Abu Dhabi's Environment Agency and his team , the team set out to photograph the elusive cat. For over 278 nights between March and December, they set up five camera traps with cat food and ended up collecting data on three individual sand cats: two female and one male.

A majority of the photos were triggered in the pre-dawn hours and during full moons. The findings were published in the European Journal of Wildlife Research, Popular Science reports.

"Sand cats are naturally rare," says John Newby of the Sahara Conservation Fund.

Due to habitat loss and falling numbers of prey species, populations of sand cats are thought to be declining. On top of that, populations are thought to be declining due to habitat loss and falling numbers of prey species.

New Scientist reported that International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red listed sand cats "near threatened" and as endangered in the UAE.

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