Elusive Arabian sand cat photographed in Abu Dhabi’s Western Region

For the first time in a decade, the elusive Arabian sand cat has been spotted and photographed in the deserts of the Western Region.

According to the National UAE, the sightings are a significant step towards estimating the population of the reclusive feline, said Shakeel Ahmed, the agency’s assistant scientist of avifauna, terrestrial and marine biodiversity. They were reported in an article published last month in the European Journal of Wildlife Research.

Researchers said the most recent estimate of the Abu Dhabi sand cat population is more than a decade old and based on a “scarcity of records”. In 2005, fewer than 250 Arabian sand cats were thought to live in the emirate.

With sandy plains and small dunes covered with dwarf shrubs and other native vegetation, it is the perfect habitat for Arabian sand cats, which thrive in desert environments where they can feed on rodents, small reptiles and large insects.

To help lure the shy felines towards the motion-censored cameras, researchers planted open cans of chicken- and fish-flavoured cat food.

The picture was shared with regional experts to help identify the species, known for its large, pointy ears, broad head and dark horizontal bands around its front legs.

Four more cameras were added and by December last year, five had captured 46 sightings of one male and two female sand cats. Other wildlife photographed, such as rodents, geckos and large beetles, indicated that the cats had plenty to feed on, researchers said.

Al Ain Zoo is home to the world’s largest captive population in the world, with 33 Arabian sand cats.