Algeria’s Wildlife: Sand Cats

Algeria’s many national parks and nature reserves offer visitors the opportunity to view the country’s diverse wildlife in various habitats. Among the animals adapted to the arid conditions of Algeria’s Sahara desert are sand cats, with two of the six sub-species being found in Algeria – Felis margarita margarita and Felis margarita meinertzhagenni, the latter being found only in Algerian Sahara. Also referred to as the sand dune cat, the sand cat is the only true desert-dwelling felid and has a number of interesting characteristics that enable it to live in a harsh and arid environment.

The pads of the sand cat’s feet are covered in a wiry black fur to protect it from the intense heat radiating from the sand and rocks on which it walks. In addition to being a protection from heat, the wiry fur helps the sand cat to move deftly across soft sand without sinking into it. Unfortunately for researchers who are trying to find out more about this fascinating animal, the wiry fur also obscures any footprints animals usually leave in the sand.

About the size of an average domestic cat, the sand cat has larger ear pinnae which serve to protect its ears from sand. As nocturnal animals, they hunt at night and its sense of hearing and sense of smell are highly developed to enable it to locate its prey at night, the prey generally being below ground level. Thick medium-length fur covers its body, offering protection from both the intense heat of the day, and extreme cold of the night. Sand cats vary in color from grey through to pale yellow, with black stripes along the tail and limbs and reddish-orange stripes across their eyes. No matter what color variation a sand cat may be, they all have white chests and chins.

Sand cats can go their entire lives without drinking water directly, as they obtain their fluids through the prey they eat, which includes sand voles, gerbils, hares, reptiles, spiders, birds and insects. Because they are nocturnal, sand cats are not easily spotted during the day, but if you are visiting one of Algeria’s national parks, be sure to look out for this interesting little felid.