C. Michael Hogan PhD
October 4, 2009
The Caracal is a very athletic felid, capable of leaping to almost four metres to seize a bird in flight. This cat ranges over a broad geography, but its populations are threatened in many parts of its distribution, particularly in Asia and parts of the Middle East. Chiefly a solitary hunter, it is most often found in semi-arid grassland and scrubland, and is capable of subsisting with access to little surface water. Caracals have been revered by some ancient cultures, the prime example being extant Egyptian wall paintings and caracal sculpture found guarding dynastic tombs.
DISTRIBUTION AND SUBSPECIES
The following subspecies are recognised:
* C. caracal algira, North Africa
* C. caracal caracal, East, South Africa
* C. caracal damarensis, Namibia
* C. caracal limpopoensis, Botswana
* C. caracal lucani, Gabon
* C. caracal michaelis, Turkmenistan
* C. caracal nubica, Ethiopia, Sudan
* C. caracal poecilotis, Western Africa
* C. caracal schmitzi, Israel, Western Asia, Iran, Arabian Peninsula, Pakistan, India
The female typically attains an adult body mass of ten to 11 kilograms, with the male usually twenty to thirty percent larger. Adult body length is characteristically 61 to 90 centimetres, the tail adding an additional thirty percent. Jaws are extremely powerful.(Estes) Pelage colouration ranges from buff to wine, with spots on the underside of juveniles. C. caracal manifests elongated ears with striking black tufts. The species is known for black markings above the eyes and white fur under the chin and on the chest and belly. A thin black strip connects the inner eye edge to the nasal zone. When the pupil contracts, the resulting geometric shape is not slit-like, as for other felids, but achieves a circular form.
BEHAVIOUR AND ECOLOGY
The Caracal is a powerful and adept hunter, with close range stalking typically culminating in a final swift leap. I observed this pattern of hunting at close range in the wild of the Botswanan bush. Stomach contents analysis of a large Caracal sample indicate the consumption of springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis), steenbok (Raphicerus campestris), gray duiker (Sylvicapra grimmia), hare, hyrax, domestic livestock, rodents, ostrich and other birds; (Sunquist) moreover, grass consumption was noted in many stomach contents. Other African studies have found the martial eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus) an element of the Caracal's diet, while Asian studies have found the blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra) an staple consumption element. In Israel's Arabah Valley specific species consumed include Egyptian mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon) and chukar (Alectoris chukar). In Botswana some specific prey species also include gerbils, springhare (Pedetes capensis), impala (Aepyceros melampus) and Red-billed francolin (Francolinus adspersus).In the Karakum of Turkmenistan sand rats (Psammomys obesus) and Turkmen jerboa (Jaculus blanfordi) are included in prey. The larger prey such as antelope are killed by a throat bite, whereas the smaller animals are terminated by a bite to the nape. A study of scat in the Mountain Zebra National Park indicated that 72 percent of the biomass consumed by Caracal derives from prey that weigh at least 2.5 times the average female Caracal. The Caracal is typically a solo hunter, but the adult female is often seen accompanied by one or more of her kittens while stalking.
Caracals are sometimes preyed upon by lion, hyena and leopard. In some areas C. caracal competes for prey with lion, leopard and the painted hunting dog. (Hogan) Home ranges of females vary widely with literature reports from five to 57 square kilometres; ranges of females have only slight overlap, whilst ranges of males are larger and have greater overlap.
Sexual maturity may occur before 12 months of age, although successful mating rarely occurs before both male and female are about 14 months of age. The female has an oestrus period of 72 to 144 hours, and a male will not approach a female for mating unless she is clearly in oestrus. Mating is somewhat similar to that of lions in which copulation may occur in a repeated fashion during the oestrus with the mating pair travelling together for up to four to six days. Following mating both male and female often groom themselves. Gestation takes ten to 12 weeks yielding a litter of up to three kittens in the wild.
The IUCN lists C. caracal as a species of least concern, but concedes that C. caracal schmitzi is unclassified and C. caracal michaelis is endangered; C. c. michaelis appears to be threatened in most of its range, although Israel practises conservation which has allowed this subspecies to flourish much more than in other areas of the Middle East. Conservation efforts in India are also notable in contrast to most of the range of this species. The reliability of the IUCN "least concern" designation is questionable, since little systematic study of C. caracal has been conducted outside of Israel and South Africa. For example other sources list the species as a whole as threatened. (Avise) Furthermore, the species is chiefly threatened by habitat loss, which diminution is occurring systematically over most of the African continent. In fact, within South Africa and Namibia the species is persecuted by farmers, who deem the Caracal responsible for some livestock predation. In any case the species has minimal legal protection throughout its range.
* Abigail Entwistle and Nigel Dunstone. 2000. Priorities for the conservation of mammalian diversity, Cambridge University Press, 455 pages
* Richard Estes. 1999. The safari companion: a guide to watching African mammals, Chelsea Green Publishing, 468 pages
* Melvin E. Sunquist and Fiona Sunquist 2002. Wild cats of the world, University of Chicago Press, 452 pages
* C. Michael Hogan. 2009. Painted Hunting Dog: Lycaon pictus, GlobalTwitcher, ed. N. Stromberg
* John C. Avise and James Lewis Hamrick 1996. Conservation genetics: case histories from nature, Springer publishers, 512 pages