While these may look like ordinary kittens, these little furballs are actually wild sand cat kittens – and this is the first time that they have ever been filmed in their natural habitat.
The kittens were spotted by scientists from the big cat conservation group Panthera in the Moroccan Sahara several weeks ago. Sand cat sightings are extremely hard to track because they leave behind little to no markings of their activity and they travel primarily at night. Their fur also provides perfect camouflage against their surroundings.
Grégory Breton, the managing director of the French branch of Panthera, says that their team has been researching sand cats in Africa since 2013 – and this most recent breakthrough was a huge milestone.
“Finding these kittens was astonishing,” says Breton. “We spent an hour taking pictures and videos and setting up camera traps in the hopes of recording some natural behavior once we left.”
While studying the desert felines may have a rewarding scientific payoff – but the researchers say that it is far from easy.
“A typical day in the field involves waking up at 8 a.m., recording the daytime resting locations of the collared cats when we can find them, napping in the afternoon after a meal cooked and eaten in the shade of rare acacia trees or in one of our tents, and setting out again between sunset and sunrise,” says Breton.
“There’s no electricity and no bathrooms. When sandstorms happen, we have to stow our gear away—and retreat to our tent or vehicle to protect our faces, unless we’re in the mood for a free peeling.”
Over the course of the last four years, however, Breton and his team have accumulated an impressive amount of data on the elusive sand cat which will help to ensure their conservation in the future.
“Ours has been the most extensive research on this species, and it will surely help to protect it,” says Breton.
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