Caracal

caracal snarling

Caracal

Introduction

This is the cat that features in the well known phrase, ‘to put the cat amongst the pigeons’. This harks back the era of Indian princes and maharajahs who, it is said, kept cheetahs and caracals as hunting animals. I have already written an article on hunting with cheetahs. Cheetahs are relatively friendly and trainable. This cat is described as fiercely territorial5 and sulky and irritable6 in confinement. They are also described as ‘easily tamed’ and adaptable to living with humans18, which supports the view that they were used as hunters by people. In the USA, some people today – 2010 – do keep them as cat companions.

Although they were used to entertain the wealthy of India by keeping them to hunt small game, the extract below from: The Naturalist’s Library, I. Mammalia, Volume 2 By William Jardine dated 1834, indicates that there was little evidence of it at that time. However, when ‘taken young’ and reared by people and therefore socialised it can be trained.

caracal

One pastime was employing tame caracals to catch pigeons, as many as possible, while they were on the ground feeding. Apparently a skillful caracal could kill almost a dozen before the rest flew off. A caracal amongst pigeons caused panic and chaos amongst the birds, hence the expression, ‘cat among the pigeons’2.

This cat is or was known as the lynx or caracal lynx but is in no way a lynx. The lynx lives in colder climates than this cat species3 and the caracal has longer legs and a slimmer appearance than the lynx5. Studies have separated the caracal and lynx in terms of scientific classification. Most recent studies using DNA profiling have concluded that it is closest to the African golden cat Caracal aurata and serval Leptailurus serval20.

caracal

This slender cat of medium size is known, perhapsfor two major attributes (a) its long, black, ear tufts at the tip of its ears and (b) its ability to leap vertically from a standing position to a height of about 3 metres and more12 to catch birds in flight1.

A visitor and welcome contributor to this site has been involved with caracals. See her post here: Living With And Understanding Servals And Caracals.

The Name

The scientific name is: Caracal caracal (Schreber 1776). The word, ‘caracal’ is believed to be derived from Turkish. It is the only member of the genus Caracal19.

Other names include:

  • Persian Lynx5
  • Egyptian Lynx5
  • African Caracal
  • Asian Caracal
  • Desert Lynx
  • Garah gulak (Turkish) – means ‘black ear’
  • Red cat (Africa)12
  • Rooicat (Africa)12
  • Red lynx (Africa)12
  • African lynx (Africa)
  • Siyeh gush (Hindi and Persian)11
  • Ech (Ladakh)13
  • Siya gush3
  • ngam ouidenanga10 (‘gazelle cat’ – Niger on account of it hunting Dorcas gazelles.
  • Syahgosh (N.India and Pakistan)4
  • Shyahgosh (N.India and Pakistan)4

Classification5

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Subfamily: Felinae
Genus: Caracal
Gray, 1843
Species: C. caracal

 

Description

I include two images, one from a bygone age, while the other is current. This cat is relatively slender (foreign type in cat fancy language, incidentally). It is a medium sized cat weighing in the order of 8 – 20 kg1. Males typically weigh 13–18 kg (28–40 lb), while females weigh about 11 kg (24 lb)14.

Location Average weight kg Sample size and sex
South Africa 12.7 61 males15
South Africa 10.9 32 females15
Israel 9.8 6 males16
Russia and Turkmenistan 11.8 4 males17

 

caracal
The Naturalist’s Library, I. Mammalia 1834, Volume 2 – Page 251

 


Caracal – photograph is by e³°°° (Flickr)8

The muscular hind legs are longer than the forelegs. The hind legs give it the ability to jump so spectacularly. This cat can sprint short distances at a speed similar to the serval at 50 mph but is more sturdy in appearance than the serval5 (the serval has the longest legs to body size of all the wildcats).

The ears are tall and rectangular with the legendary long black ear tufts. The back of the ear flaps are black.  This cat is from 65 to about 90 cm in length or 2 to 3 feet, to which can be added a relatively short tail of 30 cm, about 12 inches.

The body color is ‘tawny grey, reddish, frosted sand color’1. The body colour is rather plain while the facial markings are strong and beautiful.

The cat’s general expression is described as ‘aloof’, ‘stern’ and even cruel. However these are human interpretations of the way the face is built and do not, I believe, reflect the true nature of this cat. In the photograph above the cat seems to be quietly smiling. The low upper eyelids designed to protect the eyes from the sun may give an impression of cruelty1.

Distribution

Date: Feb 2012: Below is the most up to date range or distribution of the caracal7.

Caracal range distribution
Wikimedia commons (modified) author: Gabriel Hurley (Munchkinguy)

In the most authoritative work on wildcats published in 20021, the range was considerably more extensive and it included, North Africa (the Barbary coast), Saudia Arabia and into the Russian satellite states and Pakistan and India. Specifically the countries where it was or is found as at 2002 and where the cat is ‘native’ are listed below9. Native means where the cat historically is found.

Afghanistan Algeria Angola
Benin Botswana Burkina Faso
Cameroon Chad Congo
Côte d’Ivoire Djibouti Egypt
Eritrea Ethiopia Gambia
Ghana Guinea Guinea-Bissau
India Iran Iraq
Israel Jordan Kazakhstan
Kenya Kuwait Lebanon
Lesotho Libya Malawi
Mali Mauritania Morocco
Mozambique Namibia Niger
Nigeria Oman Pakistan
Saudi Arabia Senegal Somalia
South Africa Sudan Swaziland
Syria Tajikistan Tanzania
Togo Tunisia Turkey
Turkmenistan Uganda United Arab Emirates
Uzbekistan Western Sahara Yemen
Zambia Zimbabwe Update: Tunisia

 
Its range mirrors that of the cheetah9. The IUCN Red List say that it is widely distributed across Africa (as the map above shows) and in Central Asia, and South-West Asia into India. These other locations are not set out on their map. This must indicate that the status of the caracal in these areas is uncertain and/or the distribution unknown or unclear as at 2010.

Behavior

Terrain

This species prefers an open landscape and they seem to prefer what is described as ‘edge habitats’, meaning land that is at the edge of forests and open grassland10. This allows
for cover.

Preferences vary according to location1.

Location Terrain
Niger (Africa) Semi arid regions around mountains demarcated by faults or flexures in the earth’s crust
Israel Hilly terrain with grassland
Pakistan Arid subtropical scrub forest & tropical thorn forest
Turkmenistan Black saxul forest, desert foothills
Cape Province Scrub pine and riverine habitats

 
Sharing habitat

They share habitats with animals that can prey on it, such as:

  • lions
  • leopards
  • hyenas
  • jackals – judged a superior competitor1

Hunting – Hiding

They hunt mainly at night and on the ground notwithstanding the fact that they are adept climbers. They are good at hiding on the ground due to their colour. Defensive behavior consists of climbing to higher ground and concealment there. Where higher ground is unavailable it will lie flat on the ground, motionless.

Prey & Hunting technique

It is nearly always a solitary hunter. The video above shows how this cat kills quails – spectacularly at the conclusion and slowly and stealthily at the beginning. This cat is patient when needed, waiting a long time before the attacking dash. Its speed is superior to most same sized cats. This cat will also prey on animals two to three times its size which is also a superior feat to most similarly sized cats1. Prey includes the following1:

  • guinea fowl – feathers are plucked from larger bird before feeding (see cat eats a bird). Primary feathers, viscera and parts of the skull are not consumed23.
  • eagles
  • ostrich
  • mice – killed with a nape bite. The ‘nape’ is the back of the neck.
  • gerbils (Botswana most important prey)
  • hares (in Kurkmenistan half of scats contained hare) – killed with a nape bite22.
  • antelope – killed with throat bite15. Stalked within about 5 meters. The carcass is eaten from the rear first then the fore-quarters12.
  • sheep (if killed as part of a surplus hunting spree the carcasses are usually not eaten) – killed with throat bite.
  • goats – killed with throat bite.
  • domestic livestock (surplus killing can occur)
  • hyraxes (South Africa) a small mammal
  • mountain reedbuck (South Africa) – a medium sized antelope – killed with throat bite.
  • springbok – killed with throat bite.
  • common duiker (small antelope) – killed with throat bite.
  • steenbok – killed with throat bite.
  • springhares
  • rodents
  • chukar (Israel)
  • desert partridge (Israel)
  • mole rats (Israel)
  • hegehogs (Israel)
  • Egyptian mongoose (Israel)

The throat bite is positioned at the, ‘junction of the lower jaw and neck’15.

Generally, prey is small at less than 5 kg.  However in studies in the Mountain Zebra National Park between 62% and 72% of prey was between 2 and 3 times the weight of the caracal21.

In quiet areas prey is covered with grass to hide it and to allow time to finish eating it.

Here are some photos of some prey:

steenbok
Steenbok
photo by Deeble
hyrax
Rock Hyrax
Photo by guppiecat
chukar
Chukar
Photo by jc/pics
guinea fowl
Guinea fowl
Photo by Mike LaB

 

Home ranges

Examples:

Location Home Range
Cape Province25 18.2 km² (female average)
65 km² (male)
Mountain Zebra National Park24 15.2 km² (males average) – ranges overlap
5.5 km² (females average) – ranges overlap

 
Territorial marking

This is carried out in typical fashion with uncovered feces, urine spraying (rocks and bushes etc.) and raking the ground with the claws of their hind paws15.

Vocalisations

The usual range of sounds are produced including:

  • meowing
  • gurgling
  • hissing
  • growling
  • spitting
  • purring
  • wah-wah (used when two animals approach closely. Not known what it means but could be simple displacement activity – example in humans: biting nails or licking lips).

The ears

These are marked out from the ordinary by the outstanding ear tufts. Their function is said to be unknown although people have speculated. Are they a ‘decorative signalling structure’?26

The ear flaps are large, reminding me of the serval’s ears. These are effective
for listening to prey on the ground in the long grass.

Reproduction & Development1

Here is some detail in a readily accessible table. I know people like speed on the internet.

Event What happens
Estrus (female in heat) [Captive animal studies] Male detects female’s readiness to mate in her sprayed urine. Estrus cycle lasts 2 weeks on average and cycle
for several months.
Matings Takes place over 5 – 6 days. Female copulates with several males. Males sometimes fight and get injured. In some areas they wait in line depending on age and weight. Average time of copulation: just under 4 mins.
Infanticide Adults males sometimes kill and eat the offspring.
Gestation (pregnancy) 68 – 81 days
Litter size 1 – 6 (average: 2.19)
Dens Found in other animals’ burrows, tree cavities.
Birth weight 198 – 250 grams
Kittens open eyes 4 – 10 days of age
First sounds Day 12
Kitten appearance Light yellow/reddish brown fur, face has black markings, ear flaps are black. Ears stand up at aged 14 days.
Permanent teeth 5 – 6 months
Kittens venture out &  eat solid foood 1 month of age
First kills 3 months of age
Weaned 15 weeks of age
Dispersal from natal range 9 – 10 months of age
Caracal sexually mature Within their first year
Life span In captivity 16 years

 

Conservation

Reference is made to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. IUCN Red List for Cats.

Threats

These include:

  • Persecution by farmers in defense of their livestock. This extends to ‘control operations’ which I presume to mean organised eradication. In 1981, 2,800 caracals were killed by farmers27.
  • In Asia1, central, west, north and northeast Africa, loss is due to habitat destruction to desert and agriculture.
  • In Namibia & South Africa, it is classified as a ‘problem animal’, allowing landowners to kill it without restriction.

Protection

There are many protected areas within the caracal range

Asian range: Listed in CITES Appendix I. See CITES in relation to cats.

African range: Listed in CITES Appendix II.

Hunting is banned in:

  • Afghanistan
  • Algeria
  • Egypt
  • India
  • Iran
  • Israel
  • Jordan
  • Kazakhstan
  • Lebanon
  • Morocco
  • Pakistan
  • Syria
  • Tajikistan
  • Tunisia
  • Turkey
  • Turkmenistan
  • Uzbekistan

In sub-Saharan Africa in about half of its range hunting is prohibited. I don’t know the specific areas.

Caracal – References:

1. Wild Cats of the World by the Sunquists (for reproduction and development reference to pages 42 and 43)

2. The Carnivores of West Africa Rosevear DR 1974

3. A System of natural history: containing scientific and popular descriptions …1834

4. D.L. Drake-Brockman (1909), Volume 1 of District Gazetteers of the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh, Government Press, United Provinces, India, http://books.google.com/books?id=-zJuAAAAMAAJ, “… The caracal (felia caracal) or syahgosh is also found in the Dun …

5.Wikipedia®

6. The Naturalist’s Library, I. Mammalia, Volume 2 By William Jardine dated 1834

7. IUCN Red List™

8. The picture heading the page is published under Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic creative commons License. The one in the middle of the page is Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic, license.

9. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ – caracal

10. Dragesco-Joffé A 1993 La vie sauvage au Sahara

11. Prater SH 1971 The Book of Indian Animals 3rd ed.

12. Smithers RHN 1966 The mammals of Rhodesia, Zambia and Malawi

13. Ward AE 1923 Game animals of Kashmir and adjacent hill provinces.

14. “Cats from A to Z”. National History Museum of Los Angeles County. . 2009-05-31.

15. Stuart CT 1981 Notes on the mammalian carnivores of Cape Province, South Africa.

16. Weisben Y & Mendelssohn 1990 The biology and ecology of the caracal Felis caracal in the northern Aravah Valley of Israel.

17. Heptner VG abd AA Sludskii 1992 Mammals of the Soviet Union Vol 2 Prt 2.

18. http://www.animalorphanagekenya.org/ members/brandy_for_breakfast.php

19. Wozencroft WC 1993 Order Carnivora. In Mammal species of the world 2nd ed.

20. Johnson et al. 2006, Eizirik et al.

21. Grobler JH 1981 Feeding behavior of caracals Felis caracal...in the Mountain Zebra National Park

22. Rosevear DR 1974 The carnivores of West Africa.

23. Leyhausen P 1979 Cat behavior: The predatory and social behavior of domestic and wild cats

24. Moolman LC 1986 Aspects of the ecology and behavior of the caracal..

25. Stuart CT and Wilson VJ The cats of Southern Africa.

26. Kingdon J 1977 East African mammals

27. Nowell and Jackson 1996

From Caracal to Wild Cat Species


Comments

Caracal — 1 Comment

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