Persian lynx, African lynx, Desert lynx, Asian caracal
The caracal (Caracal caracal) is a medium-sized wild cat. It was first scientifically described by German naturalist Johann Christian Daniel von Schreber in 1776. Typically nocturnal, the caracal is highly secretive and difficult to observe. It was tamed and used for coursing in India, Persia and Egypt.
The caracal is a graceful, slender, cat with a short, thick coat and characteristic long black-tufted ears. Its body color ranges from tawny-gray to reddish-brown, and sometimes entirely black “melanistic” animals may occur. They have distinctive narrow black stripes running from their eye to their nose and down the middle of their forehead, and their eyes are yellow-brown, with circular pupils instead of slits. The kittens feature reddish spots on their undersides, which adults do not have.
The caracal’s range is large, including a good part of Africa, to extend through the Arabian and Anatolian Peninsula, as well as southwestern and central Asia to Kazakhstan and central India. In Africa, the caracal is found everywhere except the central Sahara and the dense forest areas of equatorial West Africa. Caracals inhabit forests, woodlands, savannas, grasslands, semi-deserts, and scrub forests, but prefer dry areas with low rainfall and availability of cover. They can also be found in montane habitats such as in the Ethiopian Highlands and often visit suburban areas.
Caracals are solitary animals, except during mating and the rearing of kittens. Males and females are both territorial and have an active home range. A male’s territory may overlap the range of several other males, but a female’s entire territory is for her individual use. Primarily nocturnal, sometimes caracals are seen during the day, particularly in undisturbed regions. Although terrestrial, they are skilled climbers as well, with tenacious attitudes. The time of hunting is usually regulated by prey activity, though caracals usually hunt at night. They have very good hearing and sight, and they communicate with a variety of growls, hisses, meows, and spits. Tactile communication, such as huddling and sparring, has been seen during mating periods.
Caracals are strict carnivores and mostly eat hyraxes, hares, antelopes, rodents, small monkeys, and birds. They may scavenge at times. Their need for water is met by the fluids from their prey, so they are able to survive without consuming much water.
Caracals are polygynandrous (promiscuous), where two or more males mate with two or more females. They are capable of mating any time during the year, but most often mate between August and December. The gestation period is 10 to 11 weeks. Litters usually have 3 kittens. Mothers invest much time and energy in their altricial young. A cave, tree cavity, or abandoned burrow is often the place for giving birth, and the first month after the kittens are born. After that, a mother may continuously move her litter from place to place. At about this time, the kittens start to play and eat meat. Weaning occurs at around 15 weeks old, but true independence is not until the age of 5 to 6 months. Caracals are sexually mature between 6-24 months.
Habitat loss in North Africa, Central Asia, Arabia, Iran, and India is a significant threat to the survival of the caracal. In southern Africa, where they are common, they are hunted heavily as a pest because they prey on livestock. They are also hunted for meat and fur.
Caracals are thought to be quite common in sub-Saharan Africa, but being a very elusive species it is very hard to make an estimation of their population size. Now caracal is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the list of threatened species.
Caracals act as population control for their prey species. They are opportunistic feeders and eat what is most available and require the least energy to chase and kill, a method of hunting that plays a part in controlling prey species in terms of being under or over-populated. Caracals, in some regions, are amongst just a few species that can kill certain types of prey.