A sand cat licks itself. A sand cat licks itself. Sand cats can go for months without drinking water. (Photo: Tambako The Jaguar / Flickr)

Three newborn sand cat kittens melt our hearts

One of the cutest endangered species gets a population boost in an Israeli zoo.

Nothing makes us more doe-eyed than a newborn animal. Except, perhaps, a newborn endangered animal – make that three newborn endangered animals.

In the video above, three rare sand cat kittens stumble around their mother, blinking in the sunlight at the Ramat Gan Safari Park near Tel Aviv, Israel. Their father, Kalahari, was recently brought from Sweden to Israel.

Experts do not recommend leaving sand cats in the same room together, so it was surprising when zoo workers decided to let Kalahari and the mother share their own joint room for a night. Clearly, the risk paid off: she gave birth two months later.

"The new babies are a really big surprise for us," Tomer Shine, a Ramat Gan Safari Park zookeeper, told Reuters' Roselle Chen. "We did not expect them, we didn't see any mating or any interaction between the parents, as we got Kalahari who is kind of the new guy here."

Sand catSand cats hide out under rocks and burrow into sand to protect themselves from extreme desert weather. (Photo: Yair Leibovich/Shutterstock)

In addition to being an endangered species, these cats are uniquely specialized to thrive in the true desert environment. They like to stay up during the night and sleep during the day to avoid desert heat, and they don't need much water. Rather, they can get all their necessary liquids from hunting.

Since these cuties are endangered, zoos in Cincinnati, New York and Tel Aviv have developed breeding programs to get their numbers up. Clearly, these programs know what they're doing. Now if only they'd let us pet the kittens ...

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