Although the scientific name is a bit repetitive (Caracal caracal), this wide spread felid has an interesting history. The first caracal was described by a German naturalist in 1776 using a specimen found quite close to home – Table Mountain.
The name ‘caracal’ is derived from Turkish words ‘kara kulak’ which means ‘black ear’ – a characteristic feature of caracals. Caracals have tufted black ears, uniform reddish-brown fur and slender bodies. Their long legs may have a few spots. Prominent facial markings run from the inner corner of the eyes to the nose.
These solitary, nocturnal hunters have a varied diet. Feeding on small to medium sized mammals (usually rodents and small antelope), these agile felines can also jump up to 3 meters in the air to snatch flying birds. Caracals consume only meat off their prey and will seldom eat bones. These animals are adapted well for arid regions as their water demands are met by the body fluids of their prey.
Caracals mate year round and female caracals give birth to a litter of 1 – 6 kittens in caves, tree cavities or burrows. Kittens venture out of their birth den at 1 month and stay with their mother for a year when they reach sexual maturity.
The IUCN classifies caracals as a species of least concern. However, they are threatened by agriculture. Caracals are thought to opportunistically hunt livestock and are persecuted by farmers. There are however ecologically sustainable methods to deter caracals from preying on livestock. For example, using Anatolian shepherds to protect the flock of sheep.
Closing off with some more historical facts, caracals had a cultural role in the life of ancient Egyptians. Caracals were found on wall paintings, their bodies embalmed and statues of caracals and other cats guarded ancient tombs. Caracals were also used in blood sports in India where a captive caracal would be set upon a flock of pigeons and bets were made to guess how many pigeons the caracal would ground.
Want to get involved with Caracal research and conservation? Check out Cape Leopard Trust’s wishlist.
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