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First sand cat kittens sighted in the Moroccan Sahara

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  • Cologne Zoo

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We report here on the first sighting and photographic documentation of kittens of African sand cats Felis margarita margarita in the region of Addrar Souttouf in the Moroccan Sahara near the Atlantic coast in late April 2017.
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ISSN 1027-2992
CAT
news
N° 66 | Autumn 2017
CATnews 66 Autumn 2017
02
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CATnews 66 Autumn 2017
19
ALEXANDER SLIWA1*, SAÂD AZIZI2, ELHAJ ALIFAL3, ABDERRAHIM ESSALHI2, MOHAMED
ENDICHI4 AND GRÉGORY BRETON5
First sand cat kittens sighted
in the Moroccan Sahara
We report here on the first sighting and photographic documentation of kittens of
African sand cats Felis margarita margarita in the region of Addrar Souttouf in the
Moroccan Sahara near the Atlantic coast in late April 2017.
We report here on the first sighting and
photographic documentation of kittens of
African sand cats as part of a study on the
ecology and behaviour of the species in the
region of Addrar Souttouf in the Moroccan
Sahara near the Atlantic coast (Sliwa et al.
2013, Breton et al. 2016). Despite its wide
distribution in North Africa and first report-
ing of its existence already almost 160 years
ago, information about reproduction of the
species in the wild is very scant (Sliwa 2013,
Sliwa et al. 2016a).
So far for the Sahara it has been reported that
mating takes place between November and
February, and in Niger, young are born from
January to April (Dragesco-Joffé 1993, Sliwa
2013). Litter size ranges from 2-8 but the norm
is three. Young grow rapidly, their eyes open at
15 days, they take solid food at five weeks and
may become independ-ent possibly as early as
with four months (Dragesco-Joffé 1993, Sliwa
2013). To our knowledge there have not been
any pictures published of young wild sand cat
kittens within their African range.
Sighting on 26 April 2017
In the early hours of 26 April 2017 at
01:48 h we detected the reflection from mul-
tiple small eyes about 100 m away in a small
sandy patch with tufts of the perennial grass
Panicum turgidum. When we were about
30 m away, we discerned three small kittens
hiding underneath one large tuft. Alexander
Sliwa and Grégory Breton estimated these
kittens to be between 6-8 weeks old due to
experience with captive sand cat litters un-
der their curatorial care at Wuppertal Zoo,
Germany and Parc des Félins, Nesles, France.
We parked the research vehicle 15 m away,
keeping the grass tuft in the headlights and
were able to watch the three kittens for an
hour, gradually becoming increasingly habitu-
ated to the sound and lights of the vehicle.
We were able to take many photographs
and videos from ultimately only 5 m away
and then decided to leave the kittens in their
hide at 02:50 h (Figs. 1 & 2, Supporting Online
Material SOM Video V1). While watching the
kittens, we spotted a Rüppell’s fox Vulpes
rueppelli curiously approaching the vehicle
and we were concerned about the kittens’
safety, as this fox would have well been
able to kill and consume such small kittens.
We tried to scare the fox away by following
it for a short distance with our vehicle. To
document a possible approach of this fox to
the kittens after our departure, we installed
three camera traps around the tuft of grass
they were hiding in. Shortly after leaving the
kittens we happened to spot another sand
cat and it turned out to be the lactating fe-
male, as we were expecting her to stay close
Fig. 1. Three sand cat kittens taking refuge in a large perennial
grass bunch (Photo A. Sliwa).
Fig. 2. The three kittens, about 6-8 weeks old. From their head size
it is likely that they are two males and one female. (Photo A. Sliwa).
to her kittens. After a short pursuit with the
vehicle she squatted on the ground and we
were able to capture her with a hand net and
radio-collar her. By now it was 03:30 h and
we returned to our camp to catch a few hours
of sleep. We were back to look at the results
by the camera traps left close to the kittens
and were able to recover images and videos
of all three of them playing in the first hours
of light until 08:30 h, when they left the frame
(SOM F1). We found the female resting under
a grass tuft shortly afterwards with the aid of
the newly fitted radio-collar only 880 m away
from where we captured her, but detected no
sign of the kittens. Thus there is hope that
she moved them to another safe spot. Sand
cats in the study area are able to move large
distances in a single night (Breton et al. 2016)
and although it is not yet known from females
of this species, other small arid habitat cat
species, like the congeneric black-footed cat
Felis nigripes do not necessarily spend the
daylight hours next to their hidden kittens af-
ter a certain age (Sliwa et al. 2016b).
These observations provide important new
information about reproduction and behaviour
of a female sand cat and her kittens in the Sa-
hara. Estimating their age and taking into ac-
count the sand cat’s gestation period of 59-67
days (Mellen 1989, Sliwa 2013, Breton 2017)
is dating this litter to have been born in mid-to
end of February 2017. The kittens showed in-
terest in a gerbil Gerbillus gerbillus that ran
past them and also reacted with a playful
and predatory response when we rolled dried
dromedary dung balls close to them, thus it is
likely they were already eating meat from prey
that the mother would bring back to them.
Acknowledgements
It is of primary importance to mention that our
work was sponsored by the following institutions
short communication
CATnews 66 Autumn 2017
20
(in alphabetic order) and we are indebted to them:
Association SOS Félins and Co. (France), Big Cat
Rescue (USA), Cincinnati Zoo (USA), Eskilstuna
Zoological Park (Sweden), the animal keeper
class of 2015/2016 from the HELHa school (Bel-
gium), the Haut Commissaire aux Eaux et Forêt
et à la Lutte Contre Désertification (Morocco),
the International Society for Endangered Cats
(Canada), Kölner Zoo (Germany), Lyon Zoological
Park (France), Panthera France, a private sponsor,
Jardin Zoologique National de Rabat (Morocco)
and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (UK).
Last, our work is accredited by the Haut Commis-
sariat aux Eaux et Forêt et à la Lutte Contre la
Désertification and the Agence Nationale de la
Réglementation des Télécommunications.
The authors A. Sliwa, G. Breton and E. Alifal con-
ducted the fieldwork and the others worked to ob-
tain all the necessary permits.
References
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Supporting Online Material SOM V1 and Figure
F1 are available at www.catsg.org
1 Kölner Zoo AG, Riehler Str. 173, 50735 Köln,
Germany
*<sliwa@koelnerzoo.de>
2 Jardin Zoologique National de Rabat, 23ème Ci-
tée Yacoub El Mansour, Ceinture Verte, BP 605
Rabat, Morocco
3 73000 Dakhla, Morocco
4 Haut Commissariat aux Eaux et Forêt et la Lutte
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la Lutte Contre la Désertification et de la Pro-
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5 Panthera, 8 West 40th Street, 18th Floor, New
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HARI BASNET1*, SABITA GURUNG1, AMAR KUNWAR1 AND HEM BAHADUR KATUWAL1
Jungle cats are threatened
by free-ranging urban dogs
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aged to escape, while the status of another one was unknown. We believe that such
killing and chasing may cause serious threats to the survival of the jungle cat. Proper
and timely management of free-ranging urban dogs is necessary to save the jungle
cat in an urban environment.
Fig. 1. Study area showing the conflict zone, Lalitpur, Nepal.
Dogs are abundantly distributed terrestrial
carnivores in urban environments (Feldmann
1974, Young et al. 2011). Free-ranging urban
dogs are defined as dogs living in a free state
around the urban environment with no food or
shelter provided by humans (Boitani & Ciucci
1995). Free-ranging urban dogs may be do-
mestic, stray or feral. They are common in the
urban environment and frequently kill, chase
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gineering College campus in Lalitpur.
short communication
1
Sliwa A., Azizi S., Alifal E., Essalhi A., Endichi M. & Breton G. 2017. First sand cat kittens
sighted in the Moroccan Sahara. Cat News 66, 21-22. Supporting Online Material.
SOM F1. Camera trap image of kittens in early morning © A. Sliwa & G. Breton.
SOM V1. First footage of wild sand cat kittens.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZcsE0kjqvAQ
... Kittens were detected only between May and August (hot season). With a gestation period documented between 59 and 67 days (Mellen 1989), this implies mating 2-3 months previously, between late February to May, slightly later than reported in the central Sahara (November to February, Sunquist and Sunquist 2002) or in Morocco, where kittens have been recorded in late April (Sliwa et al. 2017). ...
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Sand Cat (Felis margarita) Inter� national Stud�ook Volume XXIII, current to 31 Decem�er 2016. WAZA / Le Parc des Félins
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Breton G. 2017. Sand Cat (Felis margarita) Inter� national Stud�ook Volume XXIII, current to 31 Decem�er 2016. WAZA / Le Parc des Félins. 129 pp.
Cat News 63, 7�10. Dragesco�Joffé A. 1993. Le Chat des sa�les, une redouta�le chasseur de serpents. La vie sauva� ge au Sahara
  • G Breton
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Breton G., Sliwa A., Azizi S. & Essalhi A. 2016. Sand cats in the Moroccan Sahara, preliminary results of a new study. Cat News 63, 7�10. Dragesco�Joffé A. 1993. Le Chat des sa�les, une redouta�le chasseur de serpents. La vie sauva� ge au Sahara. Delachaux & Niestlé, Lausanne & Paris. 240 pp.
Reproductive �ehavior of small captive cats (Felis sp
  • J Mellen
Mellen J. 1989. Reproductive �ehavior of small captive cats (Felis sp.). PhD thesis, University of California, Davis.
Felis margarita Loche
  • A Sliwa
Sliwa A. 2013. Felis margarita Loche. In The Mammals of Africa. Vol 5. Carnivora, Pholido� ta, Perissodactyla. Kingdon J. S. & Hoffmann M. (Eds). Academic Press, Amsterdam. pp. 199�202.
Felis margarita. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
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Sliwa A., Ghadirian T., Appel A., Banfield L., Sher Shah M. & Wacher T. 2016a. Felis margarita. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T8541A50651884. http:// dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016�2.RLTS. T8541A50651884.en. Downloaded on 18 Septem�er 2017.