The sand cat (Felis margarita) used to live in Israel until the mid-1990's, when it became extinct following the territorial exchange between Israel and Jordan as part of the peace treaty that was signed between the countries. However, in the decade that passed between its discovery in Israel and its extinction from the country, the sand cat's population declined steadily due to the expansion of human settlement and agriculture, which brought with them new or higher numbers of various rodent species, venomous snakes, feral cats and dogs, jackals, red foxes and crows that either prey on the cats or compete with them. The extinction of the sand cat from Israel and the fact that the species is threatened throughout its range led the Jerusalem Zoo to start a reintroduction project for the species. An acclimatization enclosure was built , through funding from the Zoo's Prof. Shulov Fund for the Study of Animals in Captivity, at Kibbutz Lotan's Bird Reserve in the Arava Desert. Following the construction of the enclosure the first individuals were transferred for acclimatization and shortly afterwards were released to the wild. The tracking of the cats, after their release, will be conducted by the Creative Ecology staff at Kibbutz Lotan and by Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority (INNPPA) rangers. Hopefully, this project will not only help to re-establish sand cats in Israel, but will also serve as a springboard for the conservation of the endangered sandy habitat in the Arava Desert.
As on 2010, the reintroduction program was decided as unsuccessful, as the animals, which came from the zoo’s sand cat breeding nucleus, did not survive.However, failure, too, is important, as it raises public awareness of the dangers affecting sand-dune habitats in Southern Israel. Without a comprehensive program for the conservation of these habitats, many other species of mammals, reptiles, rodents and birds that live there will simply vanish!