The caracal is a medium-sized wildcat that is distributed over much of the Middle East, Central Asia, Southwestern Asia, and Africa. They roam the savannahs deserts, and forests while their range limits to the equatorial forest belt of Western and Central Africa.
The name caracal in Turkish refers to ‘black eared’ and in Swahili means ‘secretive lion’ or ‘secretive cat’.
Caracals were prized creatures in ancient Egypt and were particularly prominent in Chinese culture. They were also offered as gifts to nobles and guests. Their leaping and hunting skills were displayed in various competitions as well.
Here is everything you need to know about this regal cat
A caracal has a reddish-golden coat with a white throat, chin, and underside. But the most significant feature of this cat is its large pointy ears which have long tufts of black hair. It makes the caracal appear as if they are wearing a crown.
With long sturdy legs that keep them straight and tough, caracals are powerfully built.
The brown coat of caracals varies among these animals with females being lighter in color. Similar to the African golden cats, they have small spots adorning their underside. The face of a caracal has black markings around the eyes, above the eyes, and on the whisker pads.
The trademark black ears tufts make the species stand out from the rest but its actual function is still not known. However, some speculations observe that the ears keep sunshine and insets away from the cat’s face. It can also help camouflage the caracal in tall grass or even communicate with other caracals through twitches and movements.
Nonetheless, caracals’ ears are extraordinary, having around 20 muscles that pivot around to detect the sound of their prey.
Adult female caracals are smaller and weigh at least 13 kgs while males can go up to 20 kgs.
Caracals are the fastest of the smaller wildcats and are regarded as supreme hunters. Aside from their ears, the sandy coat also acts as a camouflage. The stiff fur around their footpads makes them silent stalkers.
Caracals remain active mostly at night and hunt during that period. Their nocturnal and cunning behavior combined with agility makes them highly proficient at hunting.
They are opportunistic predators, not leaving any prey that comes their way including birds, rodents, hyrax, and even monkeys. Their strong hind legs allow them to leap up to 10 feet high and grab birds from mid-air while using their thick, hooked claws.
Although rare, caracals are skilled climbers and are also seen climbing trees to catch their prey like the leopards. It also chases prey that is twice its size like small goats and antelopes.
Caracals are solitary animals, except when they mate and rear their kittens. Both females and males are territorial and maintain an active home range. To mark their territories, they make use of their urine and claw marks.
They normally don’t run into other caracals but if they do, they keep track and know the scent of each caracal in the area.
Mating and reproduction
Caracals sexually mature around 7 months to 16 months old and can mate all year round. Before mating begins, females show their readiness to mate by marking their urine. They also have distinctive coughing that has been reported as a method of attraction.
When the female is courted by multiple mates, the group may fight to mate with her or the female caracal can choose on her own. Preferably, she selects a stronger and larger male caracal than the smaller ones.
Various males will stay with females for days and mate multiple times during that period. When a female does choose a mate, both the pair will move together where copulation occurs more than once.
The pregnancy period lasts up to 2.5 months, and females will use abandoned burrows of another animal as a birthing den. The litter of kittens born ranges from three to six.
Caracal kittens are born deaf and blind with their eyes opening when they turn 10 months old. It takes at least three full weeks for their characteristic ears to unfurl.
The females invest a lot of time and energy in raising the litter. The males don’t involve themselves either directly or indirectly in the rearing process. Females nurse the kittens for four to six months old although they start feasting on meat when they are a month old.
Kittens leave their mothers when they turn nine to ten months old. An adult caracal lives up to 12 years in the wild.
Caracals maintain a much larger home range for their small size. The home range for males is much bigger than that of females. It is also influenced by the availability of water in the region.
While a male’s territory overlaps with other male caracals, a female defends her territory for individual use.
Although caracals are not declining in most of their ranges, there are still threats to their population. Their habitat destruction occurs due to retaliation killing and agriculture. Caracals are often considered to be a nuisance in South Africa and Namibia, as they hunt small livestock if possible.
The species of caracals are legally protected throughout much of the habitat. However, landowners in certain parts of Africa are allowed to kill caracals if they become a threat to their property.
Caracals are one of the important species of the small cat family. Which fact out of all interested you the most about these animals?
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