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.
Read the below article to know more information about the Caracal which is an elegant and magnificent cat species on the earth as discussed by Pritish Kumar Halder.
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, semideserts, 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.
The caracal is a slender, moderately sized cat characterised by a robust build, a short face, long canine teeth, tufted ears, and long legs. It reaches nearly 40–50 cm (16–20 in) at the shoulder. The tan, bushy tail extends to the hocks. The caracal is sexually dimorphic; the females are smaller than the males in most bodily parameters.
The prominent facial features include the 4.5-cm-long black tufts on the ears, two black stripes from the forehead to the nose, the black outline of the mouth, the distinctive black facial markings, and the white patches surrounding the eyes and the mouth. The eyes appear to be narrowly open due to the lowered upper eyelid, probably an adaptation to shield the eyes from the sun’s glare. The ear tufts may start drooping as the animal ages. The coat is uniformly reddish tan or sandy, though black caracals are also known. The underbelly and the insides of the legs are lighter, often with small reddish markings. The fur, soft, short, and dense, grows coarser in the summer.
The ground hairs (the basal layer of hair covering the coat) are denser in winter than in summer.
The length of the guard hairs (the hair extending above the ground hairs) can be up to 3 cm (1.2 in) long in winter, but shorten to 2 cm (0.8 in) in summer. These features indicate the onset of moulting in the hot season, typically in October and November. The hind legs are longer than the forelegs, so the body appears to be sloping downward from the rump.
Male caracals measure in head-to-body length 78–108 cm (31–43 in) and have 21–34 cm (8.3–13.4 in) long tails; 77 male caracals ranged in weight between 7.2 and 19 kg (16 and 42 lb). The head-to-body length of females is 71–102.9 cm (28.0–40.5 in) with a tail of 18–31.5 cm (7.1–12.4 in); 63 females ranged in weight between 7 and 15.9 kg (15 and 35 lb).
Habits and Lifestyle
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.
Diet and Nutrition
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.
Both sexes become sexually mature by the time they are one year old and breed throughout the year. Gestation lasts between two and three months, resulting in a litter of one to six kittens. Juveniles leave their mothers at the age of nine to ten months, though a few females stay back with their mothers. The average lifespan of captive caracals is nearly 16 years.
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. 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 very elusive species, it is very hard to make an estimation of its population size. Now caracal 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 requires 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.
Fun Facts for Kids
- “Caracal” comes from the Turkish “Karakulak,” meaning “Black Ear”.
- The caracal has long, strong back legs and is able to jump as high as 3 meters to catch birds in flight. It can catch as many as 12 birds in one leap.
- “To put the cat among the pigeons” is in reference to the caracal. It was once trained for hunting game birds for Persian and Indian royalty, due to its remarking leaping ability
- The caracal’s impressive speed and agility make it a fearsome predator; it can tackle prey as large as three times its size.
- Caracals’ ears are controlled by 20 or so muscles which help them work out where their prey is hiding, and the tufts on their ears are an added advantage in this regard.
- Caracals have hind legs which are noticeably longer than the front ones.
- The caracal does not digest the fur of its prey but removes it with its sharp claws before eating.