Throughout its range there are still few records and its distribution seems to be quite patchy. Although that some local declines were detected, there is not sufficient evidence to assume a range wide decline of the species which would qualify it globally for a threatened category. The sand cat is often described as rare and occurring at low densities. Its status is not well known and its nocturnal, secretive behaviour may contribute to the lack of knowledge.
In the wild their reproductive seasons are dependent on location. In the deserts of the Sahara, the reproductive season begins in January and ends in April. In Pakistan, the breeding season lasts from September to October. In part, the differences may be due to climate or availability of resources. Sand cats give birth to between 1-8 kittens although 4-5 kittens are normal. Although sand cats are not sexually mature until 9-14 months, they are relatively independent at 6-8 months of age. Fast maturity may be an advantageous trait in such a hostile environment.
Living in a relatively desolate habitat, sand cats are opportunistic feeders out of necessity. Like many desert-dwelling species, sand cats can survive without drinking water for weeks at a time. They will instead obtain any moisture they need from their prey. Our zoo has the world’s largest group of Arabian sand cats. We have been very successful in breeding and maintaining this species by launching a new project that focuses on breeding and releasing sand cats in their natural habitat. The sand cat is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List and as Endangered in the Regional Red List of the United Arab Emirates.
Many aspects of the behaviour and ecology of the sand cat are still poorly known. However, some diurnal activity in Arabia was recorded, especially in winter when conditions were cooler. The sand cat rests in burrows, usually found at the base of bushes, during the day to seek protection from high or low air temperatures and to minimize the loss of moisture. Burrows can be found in open areas or also beneath rocks or vegetation. Such dens can have multiple entrances and may be used by different individuals at different times.
Due to the still limited knowledge about its ecology, distribution and population size, it is difficult to assess the status of the sand cat. As a result, very little research has been conducted on this species. As with any species, they play an ecological role in their habitats.
There are no reliable population estimates or trends available. In low quality habitats such as areas with shifting sand dunes, sand cat densities are thought to be very low. Sand cat numbers probably fluctuate with the peaks and dips in prey densities caused by environmental conditions. Whether its rarity is caused by threats or a result of its low natural density is unknown.
The sand cat is a good digger, which is necessary to make its own burrows and for hunting small prey. However, it also inhabits abandoned burrows of desert foxes or those of rodents and desert hedgehogs which are enlarged by the sand cats, beneath bushes and shrubs. The sand cat is the only felid found primarily in true deserts. It prefers areas of sparse vegetation mixed with sandy and rocky areas, which supports rodent and small bird prey. In Turkmenistan, the sand cat was described as most abundant amongst extensive stabilized sand dunes and heavier clay soil habitats.
In the northern areas between the Aral and Caspian seas, the sand cat occurs only sparsely in the more claylike desert soils of the Ustyurt and Mangyshlak regions. In the Arabian Peninsula, sand cats have been recorded in sandy habitats but also gravel/rocky and even volcanic lava fields e.g. In the United Arab Emirates sand cat evidences were found in inter-dune gravel flats with scattered calcrete hills bordered by sparsely vegetated sand dunes and in sand dunes areas. In Syria sightings are mainly from sandy habitats dominated by dwarf perennial shrubs Calligonum comosum and Stipagrostis plumosa. In north-east Jordan they were reported to prefer sandy desert and depressions without Acacia.
Sand cats eat primarily small rodents, occasionally hares, birds, spiders, insects and reptiles. They are fearless snake hunters—their prey can include venomous vipers and other snakes.