The name Caracal is derived from a Turkish word "karakulak" meaning "black ear." The Caracal was once tamed and trained for bird hunting in Iran and India. They were put into arenas containing a flock of pigeons, and wagers were made as to how many the cat would take down. This is the origination of the expression "to put a cat amongst the pigeons." The Caracal is capable of leaping into the air and knocking down 10-12 birds at one time!
Zoological name:Felis caracal
Species: Caracals have been classified in the same genus as lynx (Lynx) and also with the other small cats (Felis). Wozencraft (1993) elevated the caracal to its own unique genus in the most recent review of cat taxonomy. There are nine recognised subspecies of caracal:
- F. (C.) c. caracal (Sudan to Cape Province)
- F. (C.) c. algira (North Africa )
- F. (C.) c. damarensis (Damaraland, Namibia )
- F. (C.) c. limpopoensis (North Transvaal and Botswana )
- F. (C.) c. lucani (Gabon )
- F. (C.) c. michaelis (Turkmenistan)
- F. (C.) c. nubicus (Sudan and Ethiopia)
- F. (C.) c. poecilictis (Niger and Nigeria, West Africa )
- F. (C.) c. schmitzi (Central India to Arabia )
Law et al. (1987) state that the Israeli and Indian populations are classified as the same subspecies (F. (C.) c. schmitzi), but are very different in appearance. Definitions of the subspecies of many animals are the subject of much debate.
Physical appearance: Often referred to as the desert lynx, the Caracal does not actually posses the same physical attributes of members of the lynx family, such as the characteristic ruff of hair around the face.
Instead, it has a short, dense coat, usually a uniform tawny-brown to brick-red,and black (melanistic) individuals have been recorded. As the name implies, the backs of the ears are black and topped with long black tufts about 1.75 inches long. This tuft is the characteristic that Caracals do share with the members of the lynx family. It is the largest member of Africas small cats, and its most formidable. Males can weigh as much as 40 pounds, and females as much as 35. They stand between 16-20 inches at the shoulder, and are 35-39 inches long.
Presence on the planet: Found over all of Africa except the sand deserts and the equatorial rain forests the caracal is particularly common in South Africa. Widely distributed from the Arabian and Sinai Peninsulas (not in the interior sandy deserts), Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Kuwait, Iraq, Iran and Turkey through Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and south to the Punjab and central India. Animals of essentially dry areas, caracals are found in woodlands, savannahs, hilly steppes, and acacia scrubland.
Habitat: Prefer the drier savannahs and woodlands areas, but are not found in the tropical rainforests or in deep deserts. They may also be found in arid mountains up to 2,500m.
Diet: Caracals prey on a variety of mammals, with the most common being rodents, hares, hyraxes, and small antelope. Unlike the other small African cats, Caracals will not hesitate to kill prey larger then themselves, such as adult springbok or young Kudu. Caracals have also been reported on occasion (although this is an exception rather than a rule) to store their kills in trees, as do the leopards. These cats are mostly nocturnal, but have been spotted in daylight in protected areas.
Reproduction & Offspring: : After a gestation of approximately 78-81 days, females produce a litter of 1-4 kittens, with 2 being the average. They begin to open their eyes on their first day of life, but it takes 6-10 days for them to completely open. They are weaned at 10 weeks, and will remain with their mothers for up to a year. They attain sexual maturity between 12-16 months.
Conservation status:CITES I for all Asian caracals, CITES II for the African subspecies which are not considered threatened. IUCN=Least concern. The number in the wild is not known but they are thought to be common throughout central and southern Africa, where their main competitors, the black-backed jackals, have been exterminated by humans. In India, the caracals have benefited from tiger preserves
Life span:19 years
Caracals use the big cat technique of a throat bite to kill mountain reedbuck. These antelopes are about twice the size of a caracal (25-30 kg), and form an important part of their diet. In one study, mountain reedbuck were found in 20% of caracal scats, making 70% of their mass. Small cats usually hunt prey smaller than themselves and therefore do not need to use the throat bite to subdue a larger animal.