The Caracal (Caracal caracal) is a medium sized wild cat that is native to Africa, Central Asia, the Middle East, northwestern India and arid areas of Pakistan. Belonging to the family Felidae and the order Carnivora, there are three subspecies of caracal recognized.
These cats are characterized by their black tufted ears, their strong build, short face and long legs, and their reddish or sand-colored fur helps to camouflage them against their environment. The caracal is an opportunistic hunter and will hunt whatever it can find, preying mainly on small mammals.
The caracal cat is a nocturnal animal and therefore quite difficult to observe. For this reason, the exact population of the caracal is unknown, but it is thought that these cats are not endangered. Keep reading on to find out more interesting caracal facts. Although the caracal is considered a small cat compared to other wild cats, it is among the heaviest and fastest.
History Of The Caracal Cat
The caracal cat belongs to the Felidae family and is a member of the Mammalia class. Caracal is its common name, while it’s scientific name is Felis caracal. The name caracal is derived from a Turkish word “karakulak” meaning “black ear”. The caracal is also known as desert lynx and Persian lynx.
The three subspecies of caracal are the southern caracal, the northern caracal and the Asiatic caracal. The southern caracal is found in Southern and East Africa, the northern caracal is found in North and West Africa and the Asiatic caracal is found in Asia.
Caracals were first scientifically described by German naturalist Johann Christian Daniel von Schreber in 1776, who described a caracal skin from the Cape of Good Hope. John Edward Gray placed it in the genus Caracal in 1843.
These cats were used by rulers in India to hunt small game up until the 20th century, and also have religious importance in ancient Egypt; they occur as bronze figurines which are thought to have been guards of the tombs of pharaohs. Chinese emperors also used to give caracals as gifts.
Caracals are medium sized cats with slender bodies. Male caracals usually measure between 78 and 108 cm (31 and 43 in) long and have a tail between 21 and 34 cm (8.3 and13.4 in) long, and weigh between 7.2 and 19 kg (16 and 42 lbs). Female caracals have a length of between 71 and 102.9 cm (28.0 and 40.5 in) with a tail of 18 to 31.5 cm (7.1 to 12.4 in), and weigh between 7 and 15.9 kg (15 and 35 lbs). The caracal is sexually dimorphic, and the females are smaller than the males in almost every way.
They have a strong build and a short face, with long hind legs that are longer than the forelegs, so the body appears to be sloping downward from the rump. Their most prominent feature is their black tufted ears, which can measure 4.5 cm, with the tufts beginning to droop as the animal ages. Their long ears contains 20 muscles, meaning they are extremely sensitive and great at helping them to track down prey. They have other black markings on their body — two black stripes from the forehead to the nose and a black outline of the mouth. There are also white patches surrounding their eyes and mouth.
Caracals are often referred to as the desert lynx, but they do not actually possess the same physical attributes as members of the lynx family, such as the characteristic ruff of hair around the face or a spotted or blotched coat. Instead, their coat is short and dense and is uniformly reddish tan or sandy, though black caracals are also known. Their underbelly and the insides of their legs are lighter, often with small reddish markings. While their coat is mostly soft, it can grow coarser in the summer.
The caracal has a total of 30 teeth, with canines that are up to 2 cm (0.8 in) long and sharp. They also have a tan, bushy tail that measures about 8 to 13 inches long and extends to the hocks, which helps them to turn and stay on course when chasing prey. Their sharp claws help them to grab onto trees and climb up into branches, and also help them to catch prey.
Caracals are closely related to servals and are about the same size, but live in different places. Servals like to hunt in humid, wet areas while caracals stay in dry, desert environments.
In the wild, the average lifespan of a caracal is 12 years old. However, in captivity, caracals have been known to live to up to 19 years old. This is because, when kept in zoos, they are not threatened by predators, get medical attention, and do not have to hunt for food.
Caracals are carnivores and prey on a variety of different mammals. The most common animals they prey on are rodents, hares, hyraxes, antelope, rabbits, birds, snakes and lizards. Unlike the other small African cats, Caracals will not hesitate to kill prey larger than themselves, such as young kudu, bushbuck, impala, mountain reedbuck and springbok. Caracals will even venture on farmer’s land to prey on livestock such as sheep and goats.
A caracal can leap higher than 4 metres (12 ft) and catch birds in midair, and can even twist and change its direction midair. To capture its prey, it stalks the animal until it is within 5 m (16 ft) of it, after which it runs it down and kills its animal with a bite to the throat or to the back of the neck.
They do not like to eat the wiry hair on animals they catch and will use their claws to remove it. They will eat feathers though, and will even eat rotten meat if they are really hungry.
Caracals live alone most of the time, although they can live in pairs. As a nocturnal animal, they are highly secretive and difficult to observe. They are usually most active when the temperature drops below 20 °C (68 °F). Sometimes these cats can cover as many as 12 miles as they search their territory for prey. When needed, they can run at a speed of 50 mph.
Caracals can be vocal, purring when content and also making a variety of other noises, including meows, hisses, growls, and spits. They are aggressive cats and are quick to defend their territory from other animals. To warn other caracals that they are invading their territory, they will sharpen their claws on trees as a visual way to let others know the area is occupied. They also release scent from between their toes to protect their area, and marks rocks and vegetation in its territory with urine. Some have even theorized that the reason for their long ears is so that they can communicate with each other.
Caracals live a solitary life until they are ready to mate. Breeding takes place throughout the year and females go into oestrus every two weeks, unless they are pregnant. They show a spike in urine-marking and form temporary pairs with males when in oestrus.
The gestation period of a caracal is about two to three months, after which a litter of between one and six babies are born. Two is the average. A caracal young is called a kitten and each weighs about 7 to 9 ounces at birth. They are usually born in dense vegetation or deserted burrows of aardvarks and porcupines, and are born with their eyes shut, which will open at around 10 days old. They claws are not retractable at birth, and their ears are also closed. Their ears become erect and their claws retract between three and four weeks of age.
Caracal kittens begin to eat solid food at around the fifth or sixth week, and their milk teeth appear by the time they are 50 days old. At around nine to ten months old, a caracal will leave its mother. However, a few females stay back with their mothers.
A caracal is sexually mature by the time they are a year old, even though the production of gametes begins between 7 to 10 months old. Successful mating only occurs after 12 to 15 months.
Location and Habitat
Caracals mostly live in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as parts of the middle East. They are well adapted to dry areas, and live in savannas, woodlands and mountains. In the Asian regions, they are found in forests and seldom live in tropical or desert environments. Fortunately, they do not need a lot of water to survive, and get most of their fluids form the animals that they kill and eat. They are well adapted to the hot weather and sleep during the hottest hours of the day and are most active at night.
Caracals sleep in burrows, rock crevices, bushes and even branches of a tree. Their body and their feet are designed to allow them to move and walk on hot sand. They move very quietly and blend in well to their environment to avoid being preyed on.
The caracal is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, but exact caracal population numbers are unknown. Hunting of caracals is prohibited in Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
They are tolerant of humans, but would not make a good pet! That being said, some people do keep caracals as pets, and it has been said they can be domesticated if raised with humans from a very young age.
The two main predators of caracals are lions and hyenas, as they inhabit the same area as caracals. Humans are also a threat to caracals, especially if they wander onto farmland. In parts of South Africa and Namibia, most landowners are allowed to kill caracals on sight if they are considered to be a threat to them or their property.
Habitat loss is another threat for these animals. Agricultural expansion and the building of roads threatens the caracals environment, and they are often killed in road accidents in Turkey and Iran. Additionally, they are threatened by hunting for the pet trade on the Arabian Peninsula.
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