ANIMALS AND HABITATS IN CENTRAL ASIA

ANIMALS IN CENTRAL ASIA

An area along the Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan border is filled with foot prints of megalosaurs, huge meat-eating dinosaurs that lived 155 million years ago. One track is 1,020 feet long, the longest dinosaur track known. There is also evidence of a gathering with 31 individuals. It is believed that the dinosaurs came to the site to drink and left behind the prints in damp ground.

Animals found in the Kara-Kum and Kyzl-Kum deserts include antelopes, wild cats, snakes, tortoises, lizards, goitered gazelle ( jeran), gophers, sand rats, jerboas (small jumping rodents) and foxes.

Animals found in the tungai swamp forests along the Amu Darya and Syr Darya include the caracal, badgers, jackals, wild boar, foxes and Bukhara deer. The last Caspian tiger was killed in an area of tungai north of Nukus in 1972. The tugai forests found along the Syr Dayra and Amu Darya are unique to the river valleys of Central Asia. They contain a very dense, jungle-like tangle or trees, shrubs and salt-resistant plants and creepers. Most of these forests have been cleared to accommodate cotton farming.

Poaching is problem in Central Asia. The region is source for hunter birds for people in the Middle Eastern falconers. Musk deer are found in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. They are sometimes hunted for their musk glands.

There are plans to maybe use the same or similar technology used to clone a gaur on the Bactrian deer. Bactrian deer DNA would be placed in the eggs of an ibex. See Asian Animals.

Central Asia is home for imperial eagle. Other eagle species include the golden eagle, steppe eagle and booted eagle.

Steppe

The famous steppe of Central Asia is 3000-mile-long, flat or gently rolling grassland, averaging 500 miles in width. It is mostly treeless except for areas along riverbanks. It's name is derived from stepi, "meaning plain.

The Central Asian steppe stretches from Mongolia and the Great Wall of China in the east to Hungary and the Danube River in the west. It is bounded by the taiga forest of Russia to the north and by desert and mountains to the south. It is located at about same latitude as the American plains and embraces a dozen countries, including Russia, China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and several other former Soviet Republics.

Describing the steppes, Polish Nobel laureate Henry Sienkiewicz wrote in With Fire and Sword, "The steppes are wholly desolate and unpeopled yet filled living menace. Silent and still yet seething with hidden violence, peaceful in their immensity yet infinitely dangerous, these boundless spaces were a masterless, untamed country created foe ruthless men who acknowledge no one as their overlord."

The poor yellow steppe soil is much less fertile than rich black earth found in southern Russia and Ukraine. When the topsoil is stripped of vegetation it becomes dusty and is easily blown away in the wind.

Grassland soil and plants store large amounts of carbon dioxide. When they are burned they release large amounts of carbon dioxide onto the atmosphere and contribute to global warming,

Steppe Plants and Grasses

Steppes are covered mostly by sparse grass or grasses and shrubs such as saxual. Trees are often stunted. Large trunks, branches and leaves require a lot of water to maintain. When the steppes meet the foot foothills, you can find wild poppies, even wild opium poppies.

The grass family is one of the largest in the plant kingdom, embracing some 10,000 different species worldwide. Contrary to what you might think, grasses are fairly complex plants. What you see are only their leaves.

Grass flowers are often not recognizable as such. Because grasses rely on the breeze to distribute pollen (there is a usually lots of wind on the steppe) and they don't need colorful flowers to attract pollinators such as birds and bees. Grass flowers have scales instead of pedals and grow in clusters on special tall stems that lift them high enough to be carried by the wind.

Grasses need lots of sunlight. They do not grow well in forests or other shady areas. Tall feather grass grows well in the well-watered parts of the steppe. Shorter grass grows better in the dry steppe where there is less rainfall. Chiy, a grass with cane-like reeds, is used by nomads to make decorative screens in the yurts

Grasses can tolerate lack of rain, intense sunlight, strong winds, shredding from lawnmowers, the cleats of Athletes and the hooves of grazing animals. They can survive fires: only their leaves burn; the root stocks are rarely damaged.

The ability of grass to endure such harsh conditions lies in the structures of its leaves, The leaves of other plants spring from buds and have a developed a network of veins that carry sap and expand into the leaf. If a leaf is damaged a plant can seal its veins with sap but do little else. Grass leaves on the other hand don't have a network of veins, rather they have unbranched veins that grow straight, and can tolerate being cut, broken or damaged, and keep growing.

Animals of the Steppe: Saiga, Hamsters, Gerbils

The steppes are well suited for wild grazing animals such as antelope, bison and domesticated animals such as cattle, sheep and goats. Large wild mammals are mostly gone except for antelope, deer and wolves. Animals found on the steppe include saiga (a type of small antelope), roe deer, wolves, foxes, badgers, ring-necked pheasants, partridges, black grouse, bustards, falcons, hawks, tortoises and hedgehogs.

In the steppes of Central Asia you will see wild cuis—hamsters and gerbils. Siberian dwarf hamsters of Central Asia have short lifespans and only a short time to reproduce and produce offspring. Like all mammals females can not released an egg while producing milk. To speed up the reproduction process a female give off a strong-smelling vaginal secretions the night before she give birth. The secretion can to attract males up to a quarter mile away.

After giving birth the female has a three hour window of opportunity to get pregnant before she begins producing milk. In that time she emerges from her burrow mates quickly with a male attracted by her secretion. During the next 18 days she suckles her young while her new brood are developing inside her. On the eve of their birth she repeats the mating and suckling process again and give birth again. Following this pattern she may give birth four times in her short life.

Griffins—lion-sized, winged creatures with beaked heads—were first conceived in Central Asia. Desert and steppe nomads may have got the idea for these creatures from fossils of ceratopsian dinosaurs.

Mountains of Central Asia: Biodiversity Hotspot

In 2005, the mountains of Central Asia were declared a biodiversity hot spot by Conserbation International because it is rich in unique wildlife and plant life and also threatened by the encroachment of people.

Comprising two of Asia's major mountain ranges, the Mountains of Central Asia were known to early Persians as the "roof of the world." The hotspot's ecosystems range from glaciers to desert, and include a highly threatened type of walnut-fruit forest, unique to this region, which contains ancestors of domestic fruit varieties and is an important storehouse of genetic diversity. The hotspot is also home to a rich variety of ungulates, including the threatened argali wild sheep. [Source: Conservation International, Critical Ecosysten Partnership Fund, CEPF,net]

Vital Signs: A) Hotspot Original Extent: 863,362 square kilometers; B) Hotspot Vegetation Remaining: 172,672 square kilometers; C) Endemic Plant Species: 1,500; D) Endemic Threatened Birds: 0; E) Endemic Threatened Mammals: 3; F) Endemic Threatened Amphibians: 1; G) Extinct Species: 0; H) Human Population Density (people/square kilometers): 42; I) Area Protected; 59,563 square kilometers):

The Mountains of Central Asia hotspot consists of two of Asia's major mountain ranges, the Pamir and the Tien Shan. Politically, the hotspot’s 860,000 square kilometers include southern Kazakhstan, most of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, eastern Uzbekistan, western China, northeastern Afghanistan, and a small part of Turkmenistan. The hotspot has many mountains above 6,500 meters in elevation, as well as major desert basins, the largest of which is the Fergana Valley. The hotspot holds a large number of endemic plant species, but water stress and civil conflict have placed much of its unique biodiversity under serious threat.

The Pamir mountain range, which includes the Eastern Pamir, Western Pamir and Pamir-Alai Mountains, was known to early Persians as the "roof of the world." The Eastern Pamir are plateau-like with limited altitudinal variation, while the Western Pamir are characterized by sharp ridges, steep slopes and deep valleys and gorges. The hotspot's highest peak is Kongur, which rises to 7,719 meters in the Chinese Pamir; four other peaks are above 7,000 meters. The 300-km-long, 150-km-wide Fergana valley separates the Pamir from the Tien Shan Mountains, a complex series of ranges extending for 2,500 kilometers from west to east. The hotspot also holds more than 20,000 glaciers, covering around 18,000 square kilometers.

The climate in the Mountains of Central Asia is generally arid. Precipitation falls mainly in winter and spring and varies from more than 1,500 millimeters in the Gissar Range in the west of the hotspot to less than 100 millimeters in the Eastern Pamir.

The predominant vegetation types in the hotspot are desert, semi-desert and steppe on all the lower slopes and foothills and in some of the outlying ranges and major basins. Patches of riverine woodland survive in the Ili valley and a few other places. At higher altitudes, steppe communities, dominated by various species of grasses and herbs occur, while shrub communities are widespread in the lower steppe zone. Spruce forests, the only coniferous forest type in the hotspot, occur on the moist northern slopes of the Tien Shan, while open juniper or archa forest occurs widely between 900 and 2,800 meters. Subalpine and alpine meadows occur in the western part of the mountains, from 2,000 to 4,000 meters and above. At the very highest and coldest elevations, there is limited vegetation cover and diversity, with cushion plants, snow-patch plants and tundra-like vegetation.

Unique Biodiversity of the Central Asian Mountains

Taxonomic Group: A) Plants: 5,500 species, 1,500 endemic species, 27.3 percent endemism; B) Mammals: 143 species, 6 endemic species, 4.2 percent endemism; C) Birds: 489 species, 0 endemic species, 0.0 percent endemism; D) Reptiles: 59 species, 1 endemic species, 1.7 percent endemism; E) Amphibians: 7 species, 4 endemic species, 57.1 percent endemism; F) Freshwater Fishes: 27 species, 5 endemic species, 18.5 percent endemism. [Source: Conservation International, Critical Ecosysten Partnership Fund, CEPF,net]

Reptiles: Nearly 60 reptiles are found in the hotspot, though only one is endemic, a skink, Asymblepharus alaicus. Diversity is highest in the lower altitudes, in desert and semi-desert areas. There are ten species of Eremias lizards and eight toad-headed agamas (Phrynocephalus spp.).

Amphibians: Although only seven species of amphibians have been recorded, four of them are endemic, including a salamander (Ranodon sibiricus, EN) found only in the Dzhungarian Alatau Range at the northern end of the Tien Shan. One recently described species, the frog (Rana terentievi) is known only from southern Tajikistan, though they may also occur in adjacent parts of Afghanistan.

Freshwater Fishes: This arid hotspot has less than 30 freshwater fish species, five of which are endemic. Endemism is centered in the Lake Issyk-Kul Basin of Kyrgyzstan, which lacks outlets to connect it with any other bodies of water. In addition, the Kugitang blind cave fish (Troglocobitis starostini) is found only in a small area of the Kugitang Mountains at the southwestern end of the hotspot.

Invertebrates: Although a full inventory of invertebrates for the hotspot is lacking, there is a rich insect diversity in the alpine meadows. Eleven of 26 species of apollo butterflies known to occur in this hotspot are endemic. There are also 87 endemic mollusks, including the Kokand freshwater clam (Colletopterum kokandicum), which is restricted to one lake in the Fergana Valley.

Mammals of the Central Asia Mountains

Six of the 140-odd mammals found in the hotspot are endemic: Menzibier's marmot (Marmota menzbieri, VU), found only in the western Tien Shan above 2,000 meters, and Ili pika (Ochotona iliensis, VU), a small species of lagomorph found only in the Chinese portion of the Tien Shan; two susliks or ground squirrels (Spermophilus ralli and S. relictus); the Pamir shrew (Sorex bucharensis); and the Alai mole vole (Ellobius alaicus, EN), which is known only from the Alai Mountains in southern Kyrgyzstan. [Source: Conservation International, Critical Ecosysten Partnership Fund, CEPF,net]

The hotspot also holds a variety of mountain ungulates, including three endemic subspecies of the argali wild sheep (Ovis ammon, VU), among them the Marco Polo sheep (O. a. polii), whose magnificent curling horns have made it a favored target of trophy hunters. The Siberian ibex (Capra sibirica) is the most numerous and most widespread species, occurring in all parts of the area above the treeline, while the blue sheep (Pseudois nayaur), a typical Tibetan and Trans-Himalayan species, reaches the southeast corner of the hotspot.

The Saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica, CR), a species associated with the flat plains of central Asia, inhabits the lower elevations of this hotspot. The antelope has experienced a dramatic decline since the 1970s due to habitat destruction and hunting.

Because of their location in the central part of the Asian continent, the Mountains of Central Asia play an important connecting role in the distribution of many important montane Asian species. Perhaps the best-known symbol of this fauna is the snow leopard (Uncia uncia, EN), a species found in the alpine and subalpine zones of the hotspot. The species has declined here, as elsewhere, as a result of poaching for its valued fur and a depletion of its prey base through illegal hunting.

Birds of the Central Asia Mountains

Although nearly 500 bird species occur regularly in this hotspot, none are endemic to the region. Many species belong to genera typical of the high ranges of Asia, such as redstarts (Phoenicurus), accentors (Prunella) and rosefinches (Carpodacus). Coniferous forests on the northern side of the Tien Shan form the southern limits of several boreal species, including the black grouse (Lyrurus tetrix) and northern hawk owl (Surnia ulula), while desert birds, including the great bustard (Otis tarda, VU) and houbara bustard (Chlamydotis undulate, VU) occur in the low-altitude zones. [Source: Conservation International, Critical Ecosysten Partnership Fund, CEPF,net]

The Mountains of Central Asia are an important stronghold for birds of prey, with important breeding populations of several species, including the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), the imperial eagle (A. heliaca, VU), steppe eagle (A. rapax), booted eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus), lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus), black vulture (Aegypius monachus), Eurasian griffon (Gyps fulvus), Himalayan griffon (G. himalayensis), peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) and saker falcon (F. cherrug, EN).

Plants of the Central Asia Mountains

The flora of the Mountains of Central Asia is a mix of Boreal, Siberian, Mongolian, Indo-Himalayan and Iranian elements. There are more than 5,500 known species of vascular plants in the hotspot, about 1,500 of which are endemic. There are also 64 endemic genera, including 21 from the family Umbelliferae and 12 from the family Compositae. The endemic flora includes several tree species, grasses (such as Atraphaxis muschketovii and Stipa karatavica), and numerous herbs. There are many species of wild onion, including Allium pskemense, a very rare large onion found only in a small part of the Pskem Range of the Western Tien Shan. [Source: Conservation International, Critical Ecosysten Partnership Fund, CEPF,net]

A type of walnut-fruit forest unique to Central Asia can be found above the steppe zone in warm sheltered coves in the western Pamir-Alai and Tien Shan. The fruit and nut trees in these diverse forests include walnut (Juglans regia), almonds (Amygdalus communis and A. bucharensis), pears (Pyrus korshinskyi and P. regelii), plums (Prunus sogdiana and P. ferganica), and cherry (Cerasus mahaleb), along with maples (Acer turkestanicum and A. semenovii) and a few Chinese walnuts (Juglans cathayana) that survive in one location in the eastern Tien Shan. This ancient forest type contains ancestors of domestic fruit varieties and is an important storehouse of wild genetic diversity. About 90 percent of this habitat has been lost in the last 50 years.

More than 16 endemic species of tulip grow in the steppe and meadow zones of the Mountains of Central Asia. The largest of these is the rare, brilliant orange-red Greig's tulip (Tulipa greigii), often known as the king of the tulips, which is only found in western Tien Shan. Collecting for horticulture and decoration has led to the decline of many of the hotspot's tulip species.

In some places you can find wild walnut, pistachio, apricot and apple.The tugai forests found along the Syr Dayra and Amu Darya are unique to the river valleys of Central Asia. They contain a very dense, jungle-like tangle or trees, shrubs and salt-resistant plants and creepers. Most of these forests have been cleared to accommodate cotton farming.

See Kazakhstan, Mongolia

Human Impacts on the Mountains of Central Asia

The Mountains of Central Asia have long been exploited for grazing, food, timber and fuel. The last few decades, a steady rise in human population (there are about 20 million people in the hotspot) and domestic livestock, and the associated need for land and resources, has made human activity unsustainable in many areas. This has been exacerbated over the last 10-15 years by political and economic changes in the countries of the former Soviet Union. Habitat destruction, overgrazing, and unregulated hunting of animals and collection of plants have emerged as the three major and continuing threats in the hotspot, such that only around 20 percent of the original native habitat remains in pristine condition. [Source: Conservation International, Critical Ecosysten Partnership Fund, CEPF,net]

Virtually all of the land in the lowland desert belt and in many foothill areas has been converted to agricultural use. As coal and other fuels have become unavailable and unaffordable, the cutting of trees and shrubs for fuel and building materials has increased. This, together with forest fires, has greatly reduced the area of these habitats, especially in the case of the steppe-shrub communities and the unique and valuable walnut-fruit forests. As an example, between 1995 and 1998, more than 4 500 square kilometers of forest in Kazakhstan were lost due to fires. Expansion of settlements, construction of roads and other infrastructure, recreational facilities, mining and other economic activities have also contributed to habitat destruction and fragmentation.

Many areas have been affected by overgrazing as numbers of domestic livestock throughout the region have increased sharply in recent years. This is particularly the case in the foothills and lower slopes, as well as the alpine and subalpine meadows.

Since the break-up of the former Soviet Union, poaching, especially of larger mammals and birds, has increased sharply. Mountain ungulates are increasingly seen as a source of food, and snow leopard numbers in Kyrgyzstan are estimated to have decreased by 75 percent during the 1990s, as a result of heavy hunting pressure on them and their prey. Falcons are captured and exported to the Middle East, where they fetch a high price from falconers. Unregulated collection of plants also poses a problem to native species; crocuses and tulips have disappeared or become very rare in several areas.

Other threats include the impacts of civil conflict in Tajikistan in the 1990s and the recent war in Afghanistan, as well as the siting of minefields along international borders, which pose a threat to large animals. Damming, reservoir construction and irrigation have disrupted water supplies and drainage systems, and many wetlands have been drained for agriculture. Overfishing and the introduction of alien species further threaten freshwater ecosystems.

Finally, the long-term effects of global warming pose a threat to the environment of the Mountains of Central Asia. It is estimated that glaciers in the area have shrunk by nearly 20 percent in the last 30-35 years, and the long-term destabilizing effects of the melting of frozen upper slopes may lead to the decline or disappearance of many montane taxa in the hotspot.

15,000 Years Ago, Probably in Asia, the Dog Was Born

A study released in 2015 suggests that modern dogs likely originated from gray wolves from Central Asia. Laura M. Shannon and Adam R. Boyko at Cornell University, and an international group of other scientists, studied not only purebred dogs, but also street or village dogs, who make up about 75 percent of world's one billion dogs. [Source: James Gorman, New York Times, October 19, 2015 <>]

James Gorman wrote in the New York Times, “Dr. Shannon analyzed three different kinds of DNA, Dr. Boyko said, the first time this has been done for such a large and diverse group of dogs, more than 4,500 dogs of 161 breeds and 549 village dogs from 38 countries. That allowed the researchers to determine which geographic groups of modern dogs were closest to ancestral populations genetically. And that led them to Central Asia as the place of origin for dogs in much the same way that genetic studies have located the origin of modern humans in East Africa. <>

“The analysis, Dr. Boyko said, pointed to Central Asia, including Mongolia and Nepal, as the place where “all the dogs alive today” come from. The data did not allow precise dating of the origin, he said, but showed it occurred at least 15,000 years ago. They reported their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Greger Larson of Oxford University, who is leading an international effort to analyze ancient DNA from fossilized bones, said he was impressed by the scope of the study. “It’s really great to see not just the sheer number of street dogs, but also the geographic breadth and the number of remote locations where the dogs were sampled,” he said. He also praised the sampling of different kinds of DNA and the analytic methods. <>

“But in the world of dog studies, very little is definitive. The most recent common ancestor of today’s dogs lived in Central Asia, Dr. Boyko said, although he cannot rule out the possibility that some dogs could have been domesticated elsewhere and died out. Or dogs domesticated elsewhere could have gone to Central Asia from somewhere else and then diversified into all the canines alive today, he said. Dr. Larson, who was not involved with the study, said he thought the Central Asia finding required further testing. He said he suspected that the origins of modern dogs were “extremely messy” and that no amount of sampling of living populations would be definitive. He said a combination of studies of modern and ancient DNA was necessary. <>

“Dr. Boyko said the research for the first time studied three sources of DNA from purebred and village dogs worldwide. The team analyzed DNA from all the chromosomes in the cell nucleus, from the Y chromosome specifically, found only in males, and from mitochondria, cellular energy machines outside the nucleus that are inherited from the mother. Dr. Boyko traveled to a number of the locations where blood was drawn from village dogs. He said: “The great thing about working with dogs is that if you show up with food you don’t usually have trouble recruiting subjects. Usually.” He added: “We showed up in Puerto Rico at a fishing village and the dogs turned up their noses at roast beef sandwiches. They were used to eating fish entrails.”“ <>

Pallas Cat

The Pallas cat is flat-faced, short-legged cat that ranges over steppes, cold deserts and mountains in an area from the Caspian Sea and Iran to China and southeast Siberia. Named after the German naturalist Peter Pallas, it looks sort of like a cross between a fox and cat.

The Pallas cat has been found as high as 13,000 feet. It has the thickest and densest fur of any cat and this fur makes it look bigger than its six pounds. This thick fur enables it to withstand intense cold of winter and provides insulation from the heat in summer and is sought after by hunters and trappers. The Pallas cat seeks cover in caves and crevices and feeds on birds, and small mammals such as marmots, pikas, hares and ground squirrels.

Caracal

Largest of the small wild cats, the caracal is a nocturnal predator with distinctive long ears that have long tufts of black hair at their tips. They stand about 37 to 50 centimeters (15 to 20 inches) at the shoulder, weigh 11 to 20 kilograms (25 to 45) pounds, and reach lengths of 1.3 meters (four feet) including a 30 centimeter (one foot) tail. They vary in color from silver grey to tawny to brick red.

Caracals live mostly in Africa but they are also found in the Middle East, Iran, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and western India. They are seen during the day but they hunt mainly at night. Uncommon but fairly widely distributed, they feed on small game, rodents and birds.

Caracals are solitary animals that often feed mostly on birds and rodents. They have been observed leaping six feet in the air to make a kill and sometimes they bring down small antelope. They are also adept climbers and hiss when excited or scared. Recently caracals have been adopted by people as pets.

Sand Cats

The sand cat is one of the more difficult cats to study in the wild.According to bigcatrescue.org: “Their foot coverings allow them to walk on sand without sinking, leaving their footprints nearly invisible. They have learned to crouch down and shut their eyes when a light is shone on them, which prevents the light from reflecting their eyes for tracking. That combined with their protective coat color makes them blend right into their habitat. They also bury all of their excrement making it impossible to find and analyze so their diet can be studied. In captivity, they have lived up to 13 years, but have a high juvenile mortality rate (41%). [Source: bigcatrescue.org ^^^]

There are four subspecies: 1) F.m. thinobia in Central Asia between the Caspian and Aral Seas in northern Iran, Turkmenistan, southern Kazakhstan and western Uzbekistan; 2) F.m margarita in The Sahara; 3) F.m. scheffeli in Pakistan; and 4) F.m. harrisoni in Arabia and Jordan. ^^^

Sand Cats weigh in at two to four kilograms (4-8 pounds) and reach lengths of (80 to 95 centimeters (29-36 inches), and heights of 25 to 40 centimeters (10-12 inches). It has a dense soft fur that is a pale sand or gray color above and paler underneath. It has large ears and a broad head, and a reddish streak that runs from its eyes across its cheeks. The ears are reddish-brown and black-tipped. There are faint stripes running down the flanks and black bands running around the tops of the front legs. The tail has 2-3 black rings towards its black tip. The feet are covered with a thick layer of wiry black hair, which insulates the footpads against extremes of heat and cold, and allows for easier movement through the sand. They are prolific diggers, and their claws are not very sharp for lack of places to sharpen them in the desert. ^^^

It is hard to gage the endangered status of sand cats because they are so elusive, Habitat degradation is the major threat to the sand cat. Vulnerable arid ecosystems are being rapidly degraded by human settlement and activity, especially livestock grazing. The sand cat’s small mammal prey base depends on having adequate vegetation, and may experience large fluctuations due to drought, or declines due to desertification and loss of natural vegetation. Other localized threats include the introduction of feral and domestic dogs and cats, creating direct competition and through predation and disease transmission. They also may be killed in traps laid out by inhabitants of oases targeting foxes and jackals or in retaliation for killing their chickens. There are occasional reports of animals shot in south-east Arabia. ^^^

Sand Cat Behavior, Reproduction and Hunting

Sand cats have been reported to have 2 litters per year in parts of their territory in both March-April, and again in October. According to bigcatrescue.org: “Gestation is 59-63 days, after which females produce a litter of 2-4 kittens. At birth, the newborns weigh approximately 1.5-2 ounces, and will gain about 12 grams per day. Their eyes will normally be open by the 14th day, and they will begin to walk by the 21st day. They begin to take solid food at 5 weeks and become independent by 3-4 months. They reach sexual maturity around 10-12 months. [Source: bigcatrescue.org ^^^]

Because their populations are so few, they have a loud mating call, which resembles the barking of a small dog. Their other vocalizations include meowing, growling, hissing, spitting, screaming and purring. ^^^

Primarily nocturnal, they hunt by digging. Their highly developed hearing allows the to locate prey which is not only sparsely distributed, but underground as well. Their primary diet consists of 3 species of gerbils. It also includes birds, reptiles and arthropods. They are also known for being snake hunters, which they kill with a rapid blow to the head that stuns, and then administer the death bite to the neck. Sand Cats will also cover large kills with sand and return later to feed. ^^^

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2016

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