The Caracal may not be large in stature, but this cat is a formidable hunter, able to take down prey far bigger than himself.
- Scientific name: Caracal caracal
- Distribution: Africa; west, central and south Asia
- Habitat: Semi-desert, woodland, savannah
- Lifespan: About 12 years
- Weight: 6-19kg
- Status: Least concern
- Diet: Hares, rodents, birds and larger prey
- Vocalisations: Coughing, growling, purring and hissing
The caracal is called the rooikat in Afrikaans for his plush, reddish-brown coloured coat. He has distinctive dark strips that run from his eyes down his nose. The tufts, or tassels, on his ears distinguish him from other medium-sized cats. The caracal has a keen sense of hearing and 29 muscles are used to rotate his ears to catch the sounds of his prey. He is known for his remarkable ability to spring 3m into the air where he has exceptional timing, balance and precision. He is able to take a bird in mid-flight or spring and secure prey on the ground. He is the fastest cat of his size.
What’s in a name?
The name ‘caracal’ is derived from a Turkish word meaning ‘black-eared’. Sometimes called the desert lynx, his closest relatives are the serval and African golden cat. He is not related to the lynx found in North America, Europe and Asia.
Caracals are solitary cats. They protect their territories by scent-marking on trees, bushes and logs. They also leave their faeces where it can be seen by other cats. In Southern Africa, breeding takes place in the summer months from October to February. The mother caracal will make a den in an abandoned burrow, and have up to six kittens. She will suckle her young and introduce them to meat at around two months old. They stay with mom until they are a year old. Caracals are nocturnal, and target prey like rodents, hares, monkeys and even birds. They will also take down prey four times their size and hide their kill out of sight in the branches of trees.
Caracals have been classified as ‘problem animals’. This is a term given to damage-causing animals, most commonly in terms of predators who prey on livestock. The Cederberg Caracal Project started in 2012 in collaboration with the Cape Leopard Trust. The project, based in the Cederberg Mountains, focuses on caracal behaviour and aims to improve the current knowledge scientists have on these elusive animals. The key aim is to gain enough knowledge to limit the conflict between farmers and the Caracal.
If you would like to learn more about the caracal projects, or donate, visit the Cape Leopard Trust at www.capeleopard.org.za.
The full article appeared in the April 2014 issue of Animaltalk magazine. For subscription info visit coolmags.com
Text: Gina Hartoog Photography: Stuart C Porter and Michael Wick