caracalScientific Name–              Caracal caracal

Conservation Status–     Least Concern

Appearance

Caracals are most noticeable due to their ear tassels. These are long black tufts of hair on the top of the ears. Debate is ongoing about their function some say it helps them blend in with grass while others hypothesise that it keeps flies away from their face. The most widely accepted theory is that they twitch them so they can communicate.

They are a medium sized cat. Colouration can range from golden sand through to dark red and grey. Some black caracals have even been found. The chin throat and belly are white. On either side of the nose is a thin black stripe which runs up to the top of the eyes. Around the eyes is a rim of white fur. The inside of the ears features white fur.

Unlike most cats whose eyes contract to slits the caracals eyes have circular pupils.

Their tail is relatively short. In males it measures from 23.1-34cm (9-13.4in) while for females it is 19.5-34 (7.7-13.4in). The head and body length of males is 75-105.7cm (29.5-41.6in) while females measure 69-102.9cm (27.2-40.5in) long. Males weigh in at 8-20kg (17.6-44.1lb). Females are smaller at 7-15.9kg (15.4-35.1lb).

Lifespan                                                                                  

Caracals can live to be 12 years old in the wild while captive individuals manage to reach ages of up to 17 years.

Diet

The caracal is a carnivore. They are not picky when it comes to the species they eat but have some odd habits regarding the cleanliness of this prey. While they eat rotten meat they will not feed on some internal organs and will remove the fur from hyraxes.

Some of their main foods include mongooses, rodents, hyraxes, dik-diks, monkeys, impala, young kudu, springhares, gerbils, mice, birds and domestic livestock. One of their most amazing feats is the ability to kill an ostrich which is sitting down.

Caracals catch animals using their claws. They will come within 5m (16ft) of the caracal and they then sprint towards they prey. They will jump onto a small prey item and bite the back of the neck. For larger prey they bite the throat and then rake it with their claws. They are able to launch into the air and catch birds then land again.

Larger prey items cannot be digested in one sitting. So the food is not wasted they will bury it under sand or hide it in a tree. This allows them to return the next day to finish the meal.

They can survive for long periods of time with no water due to the bodily fluids of the prey.

Habitat

Africa and the Middle East is the home of the caracal. Caracals can be found from the Bottom Africa upwards. They are not found in a patch from down near the South of Africa through to where the continent bulges out. They are also not found in parts of the North of the country. They range through parts of the Middle East and their range extends down to India.

Their far reaching range means they live in many different habitat types. These include Savannah, semi-desert, dry woodland, scrub, dry mountains, montane forests and arid hilly steppe. Every habitat they live in features some tree cover.

Reproduction

Breeding can occur year round. The males are females only come together to mate. The female is on heat for 5-6 days at a time. Over this time the female mates with a number of males. She decides which ones by establishing a pecking order of all the males caracalvying for her. She will mate with the biggest, strongest ones first. They may mate with the same males every year. Some males stay with the female for this period to stop other males mating with her.

After mating the male will leave. 69-81 days 1-6 cubs will be deposited in a den. Tree cavities, or porcupine and aardvark burrows are used for this den. The tiny cubs have their eyes sealed shut until they are 10 days old.

After a month they begin to venture out of the birthing den. A month later they begin to get their first taste for meat. After a year they will begin to become more independent of the mother. It is also at this time that they become sexually mature.

Behaviour

Caracals are solitary animals. They maintain a territory which they will mark by leaving faeces where they can be seen and spraying urine onto bushes.

Another method of communication is their vocalisations. These include the familiar purr of house cats along with mews, growls, hisses and a ‘wah-wah’ noise which they used to show they were uneasy.

This species shows no pattern for its activity being active both during the day and at night. On colder nights they tended to be active for long periods.

Quick facts

It is believed that caracals were significant in Ancient Egyptian religion. They have been found embalmed and wall paintings of them exist.

In the past they were used for hunting and blood sports. One of these was to release a caracal in a flock of pigeons and bets were then placed on how many it could catch.

Sometimes caracals have been kept as pets around the world.

This species is sometimes called the desert lynx though there is no relation between the two species.

They are closely related to African golden cats and the serval.

The name caracal comes from the Turkish words for ‘black ear’-kara kulak. They are known as the rooikat in Afrikaans which means red cat.

Photo Credits:

Top        – By Steve Snodgrass from Washington DC, USA (Semi-Wild Cat) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Bottom – By Kevin Ho (KSHO_20100403_14-44-56  Uploaded by Snowmanradio) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons