Many of the most fervent feline enthusiasts have no idea what a sand cat is. This is probably for the best, because these small, desert-dwelling kitties are so adorable it’s disturbing. Recently, a conservation team captured the first-ever footage of sand cat kittens in the wild, and beyond being mind-numbingly cute, the footage is extremely useful for scientists, a big cat expert tells Inverse.
Back in April, conservation group Panthera discovered a group of six-to-eight-week-old sand cat kittens hiding out in the Moroccan Sahara Desert. It took the team four years to catch a glimpse of these notoriously elusive creatures in the wild, so when they finally found the critters, they spent over an hour recording video of the kittens until their mom showed up. Recently, that footage became public and, well, words don’t do it justice.
“This new video is exciting because it captures young sand cat kittens in the wild, which is extremely rare for the world to see,” Susan Bass, PR director at the Florida animal sanctuary Big Cat Rescue, tells Inverse. “The more people learn about sand cats, it’s our hope that they will want to help conserve and protect the habitat of these tiny but very fierce, exotic cats in the wild.*
Sand cats are almost impossible to spot in the wild, which is why Panthera radio-collared the kittens’ mother. We know relatively little about how sand cats behave in the wild, so this could give researchers new insight about the creatures’ day-to-day. What we do know is these kitties are hearty as hell; they’re excellent diggers, who feast mainly on rodents, birds, and reptiles.
Don’t let their small size fool you, either. According to the Smithsonian, sand cats can survive in regions where the surface temperature reaches 124 degrees Fahrenheit (51 degrees C).
“Finding sand cats (Felis margarita) in their natural range (northern Africa, across the Middle East, and southwest and central Asia) is difficult,” Grégory Breton, managing director at Panthera France, explained in a blog post. “They barely leave any visible pugmarks, they don’t leave behind remains of their prey, and their vocalizations are quiet. They move stealthily at dusk, night, and dawn, they’re good at hiding, and their fur provides perfect camouflage when they want to vanish from observers and threats.”
There’s so much left for us to learn about these mysterious kitties. For now, let these real-life Neopets furrow their way into your heart — but hopefully not too deep. They’re really good diggers, and that could be dangerous.
If you liked this article, check out this video about the pangolin: the cutest animal you’ve never heard of.