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Sand cats make regular Japan display debuts at zoos in Kobe, Nasu

A sand cat, nicknamed the "angel of the desert," is seen at Kobe Animal Kingdom in Kobe's Chuo Ward, on March 17, 2020. (Mainichi/Koji Minemoto)
Sand cats are seen eating at Kobe Animal Kingdom in Kobe's Chuo Ward, on March 17, 2020. (Mainichi/Koji Minemoto)

KOBE -- Sand cats, nicknamed "angels of the desert," went on regular display for the first time in Japan at two zoos on March 20, one at Kobe Animal Kingdom in this western Japan city, and one at Nasu Animal Kingdom in Nasu, Tochigi Prefecture, in the east of the country.

The sand cat is one of the world's smallest felines, measuring from 40 to 60 centimeters in length and weighing from 2 to 3 kilograms. They inhabit deserts ranging from North Africa to Central Asia and have ocher-colored fur, allowing them to melt into their surroundings, and their paw pads are covered with hair to withstand walking on hot sand.

The male-female pair of sand cats in Kobe are both estimated to be 1 year old. While the cats are timid and cautious, they can apparently be seen moving around in the morning and evening. Their diet includes chickens, horse meat and rats. The zoo hopes the two cats will be a breeding pair, and zookeeper Mizuki Baba said, "There has never been a case of sand cats being raised in captivity in Japan, so we are in, and will continue to be in, the trial and error stage."

Kobe Animal Kingdom had closed to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, but reopened to visitors on March 20. The facility in the city's Chuo Ward is offering a limited time discount on park tickets, dropping the regular entrance fee from 1,800 yen to 1,450 yen, and from 1,000 yen to 800 yen for elementary school-aged children. For inquires, call the zoo at 078-302-8899 (in Japanese).

(Japanese original by Koji Minemoto, Kobe Bureau)

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