Roads and rat poison, the biggest killers of the caracal on Cape Peninsula

NEWS AND COMMENT: It’s reported that there are fewer than 60 caracals remaining on the Cape Peninsula, that beautiful part of the world which is loved by many people. Clearly there are too many people and too many cars and too many roads. When you build roads across the habitat of a medium-sized wild cat species they are going to be killed on the roads especially at night. In this respect they are little different to domestic cats and they may be more vulnerable than domestic cats because the caracal doesn’t understand road traffic.

Cape Peninsula caracal
Cape Peninsula caracal. Super-looking cat. Photo: Fenton Cotterill.
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The caracal is the largest remaining predator on the Cape Peninsula but they are a common fatality on Cape Town’s roads.

One wildlife ecologist living in the area, Gabi Leighton, said that one problem is that, “there’s actually very little known about caracals”. I don’t think that that is necessarily true or relevant to conservation especially if a major killer of the caracal is road traffic.

If you want to resolve this particular conservation problem you simply build less roads and have less traffic. And in order to achieve that you’ve got to have less people. This is not going to happen. In fact, the reverse will happen; there will be more people. And therefore, the conservation of the caracal on the Cape Peninsula will get worse.

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And as the current caracal population is estimated to be around 50-60, I would expect that this tiny population to be earmarked for potential extinction because you get inbreeding with these sorts of numbers and when you get inbreeding you get sterile males, a reduction in births and the problem is compounded.

And we are told that another major risk is the prolific use of rat poison and other pest controls. Clearly, and I don’t want to be too harsh, there is a distinct lack of commitment to the conservation of the caracal in this region if there is a willy-nilly use of rat poison and other pest controls knowing full well that a caracal is going to chomp down on a rat killed by rat poison.

There seems to be a lack of commitment or knowledge among the farmers or residents of the area in that they use rat poison without realising the potential consequences for wildlife.

As Leighton is engaged in educating people, clearly, she needs help. She works with the Urban Caracal Project out of the University of Cape Town’s Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa. They monitor the caracal’s eating habits and test for pollutants. And they try to find ways to protect this beautiful wild cat species from being hit by cars on the edge of urban areas.

The report on the Sowetan Live website states that “by establishing a basis of knowledge about caracals, Leighton and her team are securing the cat’s future on the Cape Peninsula”.

I don’t want to be too negative but, personally, I don’t see a great future for the caracal in this region unless something extraordinary happens. Based upon my knowledge of human nature, it is not going to happen.

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