Sand cat tameness and lack of fear of humans

Sand cat portrait
Sand cat portrait. Image supplied by Canva under license.
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On the internet, people ask if sand cats can be tamed and therefore be a pet. I can see why because this small wild cat species is attractive and not dissimilar to a domestic cat in appearance. There are two points to cover. Firstly, sand cats should not be forced into being an exotic pet. They don’t make good pets and I don’t actually remember reading about a sand cat being a pet unlike the caracal and serval; two species of wild cat which are sometimes pets, albeit unsatisfactory pets in my opinion. Making wild cat species pets also harms their conservation.

The caracal, serval and even the much larger puma have relatively amiable characters compared to some small wild cat species such as the leopard cat which is why they occasionally live with humans in a home environment.

The sand cat has a similar character if not tamer than any of the others in their natural state in the wild. This cat species appear not to have learned to be fearful of humans which may have come about because they are desert-living cats and secretive. They have not had the opportunities to learn that humans are dangerous as is the case with the common leopard incidentally which avoids humans by being active at night.

I have learnt this about the sand cat from Mel and Fiona Sunquists’ reports in their book Wild Cats of the World. Fiona writes:

“One of the most striking aspects of the sand cat’s behavior is its tameness and lack of fear of humans. In Pakistan, Anderson [a scientist studying this species] captured several animals alive in broad daylight by creeping up to the burrow out of the animal’s line of sight, then grabbing the cat.”

Wild Cats of the World

The above report is dated 1970. It is plausible, I feel it necessary to suggest, that things have changed over the intervening 50 odd years and the sand cat might not be more wary of humans.

Also, in 1984 two more scientists collecting specimens of sand cat in Egypt wrote in their book The sand cat Felis margarita: “We were struck by how unafraid the cat acted” and noted that “it allowed us to approach within 15 meters before fleeing into a cave”.

And also in Israel Fiona Sunquists writes that “two females did not move when caught in the headlights of a jeep and could be approached from behind and picked up by hand”. Most domestic cats would not allow that.

The reports are that sand cats continue to be relatively tame in captivity. In contrast young sand cats that have been born in captivity are more aggressive than their wild-living cousins.

A great contrast is seen between the sand cat which is “docile to the point of absurdity” and the super-fierce black-footed cat, a similarly-sized small wild cat branded the world’s best feline predator and “famous for its ferocity and aggressive posture.”

RELATIVE: The outstanding hunting success and high energy activities of the black-footed cat

The differences outline are a recognition of the range of characters found among the small wild cat species. Incidentally the equally elusive Andean Mountain cat is also fairly tame which is why it has been so easily killed by local people for cultural reasons.

The reason for the big difference in sand cat and black-footed cat characters has been put down to the presence of “an array of predators including hyenas, lions, leopards, jackals and caracals” in the home ranges of black-footed cats whereas the sand cat is the only true desert cat and has “far fewer large terrestrial predators to fear”.

In some regions, predators of sand cats are golden eagles, jackals and wolves.

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