Today, there is a splash of online news activity about the charming, female sand cat, Naiade, who has just died at El Paso Zoo at the old age of 17. This is an exceptional age for a sand cat in captivity because, as stated in the title, this wild cat species doesn’t do well when captive like many other wild cats. Naiade had lost her naturally aggressive behavior and become sweet and serene. She had become somewhat domesticated over the many years of her captivity.
Naiade was the oldest sand cat in the Association of Zoos and Aquarium facilities of America. This does not surprise me because in 2002 the best authorities on the wild cat species, the Sunquists (Wild Cats of the World), state that “a few have survived in captivity for several years”. “Several” means around 5 years in my book.
Wild-caught sand cats (cats imported I suppose from their natural habitat in the deserts of Saudi Arabia perhaps) “often die within a year of being brought into captivity”.
“Out of eighteen cats imported from the Nushki Desert, fifteen died of feline enteritis, despite being vaccinated against the disease”
No doubt over the years zoo keepers have become more skilled at keeping wild cat species.
This short post is a reality check. We don’t hear about the sand cats who die at 1-6 years-of-age because they contracted respiratory infections and rhinitis to which they are very susceptible or, as mentioned, enteritis.
The sand cat is sensitive to cold weather and high humidity. Unsurprising since they are the only true desert dwelling cat on the planet.
Sand cats are attractive zoo exhibits because they are very cute looking. They are like domestic cats but definitely don’t behave like domestic cats.
In 1966 they were discovered in Pakistan and a number shipped to the USA, where they did badly. I am sure most died at a young age. There were attempts to breed them. I don’t know how successful the breeding programs where – probably unsuccessful to a large extent because the cats become stressed and ill.
Naiade was also ill and being treated at the time she died. She suffered from several medical conditions but we are not told what the illnesses were.
The staff at El Paso Zoo had formed a close relationship with her. They were lucky to have had the opportunity. Sand cats don’t generally do well in captivity and I have a feeling that no matter how good the zoo facilities and staff are they struggle to keep their sand cats alive into conventional old age.
In 2002, the Sunquists tell us that we don’t know the average age of sand cats in the wild. The typical lifespans of small wild cats is around 10-12 in the wild as far as I am aware.