It is easy to recognize the caracal by its characteristic black-grey-white ears with hairs protruding far beyond their edge. Hair is stiff and stick out like horns, and sometimes so long that it hangs down. The caracal has amazing skills in aerial acrobatics and can kill 10-12 birds at once. A city in Romania as well as a battalion of Israeli Defence Forces are called by its name.
This is a medium cat with a uniform, reddish or fawn coloration. Among them there are also melanistic individuals that are completely black. Fur in all colour variations is thick and soft. The shade is generally adapted to the colours of the environment, except for the black colour, which is a genetic mutation.
The caracal has longer hind legs, so that its silhouette takes a distinctive shape. Together with fringed ears, they created a nickname for the cat: desert lynx.
The face and the inside of the cat’s paws are covered with very delicate white and black markings. Red spots may appear on the white belly. The caracal’s face sometimes looks as if someone had stuck a detective Poirot’s moustache there, and sometimes as if the cat had just came back from a make-up artist.
The nose is in the colour of milk or dark chocolate and the eyes are golden or emerald. Pupils of these cats are round, and kittens are born with aquamarine blue irises.
These cats live in Africa and Asia in mountains, forests and semi-arid areas. They are territorial and usually solitary animals, although sometimes they are seen in pairs. The larger the caracal, the larger the area it dominates. It can produce various cat and dog sounds like hissing or something in the shape of barking. Females often live in the territory of the mother, and males leave far away from their birthplace. They mark their borders with urine and claw marks.
Caracals are hunting animals that are the size of a domestic cat, like hyrax, chinchillas or springhares. Amazing skills of the caracals also allow them to kill victims even three times larger than themselves, such as springboks and duikers (antelopes), or goitred gazelles. They also have the appropriate technique to effectively hunt snakes. They are known for catching birds up to two meters (seven feet) above the ground and silent sneaking.
Its running technique is close to that of a cheetah. It performs long jumps, sometimes tearing all its feet off the ground. It also has the habit of hiding an excessive meal between the trees so that it can return to it.
The caracal can prosper a long time without access to fresh water, drawing liquids from the victims’ bodies. It is active both during the day and at night, avoiding very high temperatures. It can climb very well, but it does not use these skills too often. It is also willing to immerse itself in the water when it has the opportunity.
Caracals do not have a specific mating season, and the female copulates with different males, which sometimes fiercely fight for this right, and also for a place in the queue. Females put males in a sequence that is not accidental for them.
The female gives birth to the young in the hiding of an empty trunk, a hollowed-out hole or a cave. Kitties are born blind and with folded ears that require three weeks to develop. Cubs jump out of a hiding place after a month with open eyes and first milk teeth in their mouths. In their place the first fangs grow, and the rest of the teeth next. After a year, they reach sexual maturity and leave their mother.
Despite the excellent wild instincts, the caracal can be easily tamed, which is why a large number of them live in homes in various parts of the world, outside the wild areas of Africa and Asia. Formerly, people used the caracals for hunting and sports, in which cats were to kill pigeons in flight to the delight of the crowd. Today they are mainly kept as companion animals. They attach themselves emotionally to the owners and can be walked on a leash. You can teach them the feline hygiene in the apartment, but you have to provide them with a large enclosure. It is almost impossible in Poland though because of the classification of caracals as dangerous animals.
The biggest threat to these cats is the disappearance of the suitable territories. Caracals are killed by farmers for extermination of the livestock population. These cats prefer venison, but compensate the deficiencies with farm meat.
Caracals are hunted for fur and meat. These cats must also face natural threats posed by larger predators like lions, hyenas or leopards. They hunt for the same prey and need the same territories, so they are competition for each other.
Caracals are on the list of animals threatened with extinction, but they are placed on the very end of the list as the least concern. There is also no information about population trends. We do not know whether it’s increasing or decreasing.
Author: Małgorzata Banaszkiewicz
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