Keepers at Israel's Zoological Center of Tel Aviv are elated to welcome an adorable surprise: a litter of rare sand kittens!

While sand cats are listed as Near Threatened across their desert habitats, the adorable felines (Felis margarita – how's that for a Latin name?) have been considered extinct in Israel since the 1990s.

When the kittens' mother, "Rotem", lost her partner early last year, her keepers started combing the world's zoos for a replacement. They settled on "Kalahari", a male from Sweden, but much to their dismay, things didn't go as planned. Once introduced, the two cats showed absolutely no interest in each other. 

"We had been extremely worried," staff member Sigal Horowitz said in an interview. "Here we had gone to all this effort to bring her a mate, and nothing was happening. And these are critical years for sand cats – they don’t live forever."

Determined to try anyway, staff continued to put the cats together, and it appears to have paid off! "We don’t normally do that with sand cats because they’re so rare, and if they fight they could badly hurt each other," explains Horowitz.

Sand cats are true desert cats, and have a high rate of mortality in captivity, but Horowitz is confident the kittens are doing just fine.

Top header image: waldopepper/Flickr