Breakthroughs in research are rarely this ridiculously cute.
Last month, global wild cat conservation organization Panthera published photos and videos of what the group believes is the first time sand kittens have been documented in the wild in Africa.
Sand cats are small, wild cats living in the deserts of North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. Panthera France’s Gregory Breton, whose Sand Cat Sahara Team obtained footage of the kittens in the Moroccan Sahara, wrote in a blog post about the new footage, describing how sand cats are hard to spot in the wild:
Finding sand cats (Felis margarita) in their natural range … is difficult. They barely leave any visible pugmarks, they don’t leave behind remains of their prey, and their vocalizations are quiet. They move stealthily at dusk, night, and dawn, they’re good at hiding, and their fur provides perfect camouflage when they want to vanish from observers and threats.
Though Breton’s blog post was published on Sept. 20, the photos and video have been gaining traction online over the past several days.
The solitary animals have been nicknamed “Peter Pan cats” since even the adults have kitten-like facial features. Because they spend much of their time in burrows, they’re also called “the cat that digs holes,” according to the International Society for Endangered Cats.
While sand cats aren’t listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, they do face threats that include the exotic pet trade and habitat loss from human activity like livestock grazing.
And while sand cats are indisputably adorable, they are wild animals and are not suited to live as house pets.
“As a result of our footage, some individuals have expressed the desire to catch and keep sand cats at home ― a practice that is in direct opposition to our goal of creating awareness and protection for the species in the wild,” Breton said in a statement sent to HuffPost.
“It’s important to remember that sand cats are a wild cat species that should not be captured from the wild or interbred to make hybrids with domestic house cats.”