Researchers have captured the first-ever video of an elusive species of wild cat kittens, but it's popularity is cause for concern.
Living exclusively in dry, semi-arid environments, the wild sand cat has managed to elude the prying eyes of humans for generations. Their sandy colored coats provide perfect camouflage, and their paw pads leave behind no trace as they scamper across the sand. They live in the scarce bushes and foliage found in the Sahara, and until now, no one had seen a sand cat kitten in the wild.
The video posted by researchers from a wild cat conservation group called Panthera France is the world's first look into the lives of sand cat kittens in their natural habitat. It took hours of trekking through the Moroccan Sahara while shining flashlights into bushes for the group of conservationists to spot the three pairs of shining eyes.
Thought to be between six and eight weeks old, the wild sand kittens are as adorable as every cat lover could have hoped. It's believed they were left in the safety of the bush while their mother went hunting, and researchers filmed their activities for about an hour. The video has since gone viral, but that popularity and the obvious allure of the wild kittens has led to consequences.
The wild cats are being trapped and sold illegally to animal collectors and hopeful breeders. Even before the viral video surfaced, people have tried breeding the sand cats with domesticated cats to create a hybrid species to be sold as pets. It's having devastating effects on the sand cat population, and human interference could be a serious threat to the cats' future. The research team that filmed the video, Alexander Sliwa and Grégory Breton, released a statement explaining they are still wild animals and their near-threatened status:
"Despite expressly stating in our video (at 2:42) that sand cats are a wild cat species adapted to desert and semi-arid conditions and should not be kept or interbred (to make hybrids with domestic house cats, something that unfortunately started before our field work), some people have expressed the desire to catch or obtain one to keep them at home. We are strongly against this practice and it would lead to the direct opposite of our goal of creating awareness and protection for the species in the wild."
While you're enjoying watching the three famous sand cat kittens bravely face the camera, remember their futures are anything but secure. Visit Panthera France online to learn about conservation efforts of the small cats.
Do you think the sand cats deserve to be left in their wild habitat? Let us know in the comments.
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