The elusive sand cat (Felis margarita) sighted for the first time at Merzouga in almost three decades.
The sand cat was observed and photographed on the evening of 23 February 2019 (photos below). According to the locals, the species has not been observed in the region of Merzouga since 1990s. Exactly, the last known individual was a roadkill found in 1996. In fact, sightings of the sand cat in Morocco are very rare except in the Western Sahara. It’s so rare that some authors considered the presence of the species in the northern part of Morocco as “uncertain”. For example, the species’ distribution range shown in the IUCN Red List does not cover this part of Morocco (map below).
Elsewhere in North Africa, sightings of sand cats are also rare except in the now well-known population in Oued Dahab, southern Morocco. The following quote from Sliwa et al. (2013) summarises this scarcity of records:
Although the species has been described more than 150 years ago from Négonca in the Algerian Sahara, there have been few specimens collected or reliable sighting records documented from the nominate subspecies‘ (F. m. margarita) range, especially since the mid 1970ies […]. However, over the past decade there have been regular sightings from the region of Adrar Souttouf in the Moroccan Sahara and especially frequently along a stretch of tarmac road (N3), running southeast from the coastal city of Dakhla for 250 km to the desert village of Aousserd. Additional sightings in the Moroccan Atlantic Sahara have come from a tarmac road running northeast from Dakhla to the village of Bir Anzarane.
It’s true that the quoted information is almost six years old, but the situation remained more or less the same except in Western Sahara, southern Morocco. In that region, the occasional sightings that started during the last decade was followed up by a study that obtained very interesting data. Among others, this study obtained the first data about the home range of sand cats in North Africa (Breton et al. 2016). It obtained also the first footage of sand cat kittens in North Africa (see Silwa et al. 2017).
Breton, G., Sliwa, A., Azizi, S. & Essalhi, A. 2016. Sand Cats in the Moroccan Sahara, preliminary results of a new study. Cat News 63: 7–10.
Sliwa, A., Breton, G. & Chevalier, F. 2013. Sand Cat sightings in the Moroccan Sahara. Cat News 59: 28–30.
Sliwa, A., Azizi, S., Alifal, E., Essalhi, A., Endichi, M. & Breton, G. 2017. First sand cat kittens sighted in the Moroccan Sahara. Cat News 66: 19−20.
Mohamed, who found the roadkill in 1996, is currently trying to find more about the species in this region. Thanks for all the information!
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Since we are talking about mammals at Merzouga, below is a short video showing adorable Fennec cubs playing in the sand dunes (recorded in August 2018).