A rare sand cat in Israel is certainly doing her part to repopulate her species. Rotem, a female sand cat who arrived two years ago at the Zoological Center of Tel Aviv from Germany, recently gave birth to four kittens.
One of four sand cat kittens born recently at a zoo in Israel emerges from its den. Credit: Moshe Blunk
Sand cats, which are native to Asia and Africa, became extinct in Israel after the territorial exchange between Israel and Jordan in the mid-1990s. Habitat destruction caused by the expansion of human settlement was a primary cause of the demise.
Sand cats are listed as near-threatened throughout the remainder of their range.
Rotem was paired with a male sand cat from Poland, named Sela, and zoo animal experts were pleasantly surprised when they discovered the size of the litter.
“In the beginning of August, we were very happy to find two tiny kittens in the depth of the den with Rotem,” Sagit Horowitz, a spokeswoman for the zoo, told the Mother Nature Network. “On the next day the keepers already saw three and on the next one they were surprised to find a fourth one.”
There was concern that four would be too many for Rotem to handle (a typical sand cat litter size is three), but Horowitz said all four kittens have begun to leave their den and have become stars of their exhibit.
Like their mother, the kittens will play a role in repopulating the species. They’ll eventually be sent to other zoos as part of a cooperative effort.
In the wild, sand cats prey mostly at night on small rodents, birds, and reptiles. Their paws have thick pads to help them deal with hot sand, and their large ears enable them to more easily release body heat.
According to the Jerusalem Zoo human settlement within their habitat resulted in an increase in feral cats and dogs, along with foxes, crows, and venomous snakes, which either preyed on young sand cats or competed with them for food.
The Jerusalem Zoo has been involved in attempts at re-introducing sand cats into the wild, and in programs to protect sand-dune habitat and raise awareness about the importance of habitat protection.
–Images are courtesy of Moshe Blunk, via Mother Nature Network