Sand Cat Ecology and Conservation in the Southern Moroccan Sahara

  • Focal species: Sand cat (Felis margarita margarita)
  • Secondary species: African wild cat (Felis lybica), African wolf (Canis anthus), Fennec (Vulpes zerda), Rüppell's fox (Vulpes rueppellii), Saharan striped polecat (Ictonyx libycus)
  • Countries: Morocco
  • Name of organisation: Rabat Zoo, Koln Zoo, Panthera (France), Haut Commissariat aux Eaux et Forêts et à la Lutte Contre la Désertification (Morocco)
  • Support requested:
    contributions for specific items >1000 euro,
    contributions to running of project <1000 euro,
    manpower
  • Does this project benefit local people through employment and/or capacity building: yes
  • Does this project benefit local people in other ways: Yes, because this project partnership is signed between the aformentioned entities, including the two entities from the project country. The local collaborators from Rabat zoo are part of the fieldwork team and we additionnaly employ local drivers and guides and buy some equipment and grocery locally.

Project Description

Although sand cats (Felis margarita) were down listed from near threatened to least concern following a recent IUCN red list assessment, it was highlighted in the assessment that very limited ecological research has taken place and as a result its distribution, impact of threats and status is difficult to assess. Our study was established 2013 in the Southern Morocco, 150 km from the coast and city of Dakhla with the primary aim of improving our knowledge and understanding of sand cat ecology through the use of radio telemetry, for the first time on the African continent. Initiated by Dr. Alexander Sliwa (Curator at Koln Zoo, Germany) and Grégory Breton (then Curator at Parc des Félins, France, and now Managing Director of Panthera France), this study has been able to increase capacity by involving Moroccan collaborators from Rabat Zoo as well as local guides and drivers. The study area itself is characterised by stony and sandy Sahara ecosystems with less than 50 mm of annual rainfall and is strongly impacted by pastoralist activities and structural development with the associated dangers to all mesocarnivores (felids, canids and mustelids). We are collecting spatial data on radio-collared sand cats, which to this extent, has never been done before in the sand cat´s global distribution. Our preliminary results demonstrate that the sand cats are highly mobile and don’t use the landscape homogeneously but in an exceptional temporal and spatial pattern for a small cat species. Moreover, after remaining stationary for a certain period, they make extensive movements likely dictated by habitat condition (we recorded straight line daily covered distances of up to 21 km) and for this reason, they become difficult to track over time. Consequently, we are investigating the possibilities to develop and use new tracking systems such as GPS collars (yet unavailble, not enough miniaturised or powerful to follow such a large-range species) or new technologies (LoRa, IoT) to collect more data, but this requires extra fundings.

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