The caracal (Caracal caracal) is a medium-sized wild cat.
It is native to Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and India.
The caracal inhabits forests, savannas, marshy lowlands, semi-deserts and scrub forests. Dry areas with low rainfall and availability of cover are preferred. In montane habitats such as the Ethiopian Highlands, they occur at altitudes as high as 3,000 meters (9,800 feet) above the sea level.
The lifespan of the caracal is up to 20 years in the wild and up to 30 years in captivity.
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 centimeters (16–20 inches) at the shoulder; Head and body length is measured from the nose to the base of the tail and ranges from 62 to 91 centimeters (24 to 36 inches). Although the tail is short, it still makes up a significant portion of the total body length. Tail length ranges from 18 centimeters (7 inches) to 34 centimeters (13 inches).
Males weigh 12–18 kilograms (26–40 pounds), while females weigh 8–13 kilograms (18–29 pounds).
Caracals have brown to red coats, with color varying among individuals. Females are typically lighter than males. Their undersides are white and, are adorned with many small spots.
The prominent facial features include the 4.5 centimeters (1.8 in) 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.
Like all cats, each caracal’s whiskers are attached in a unique pattern, similar to a fingerprint.
The powerful hind legs allow it to leap more than 3 meters (10 feet) in the air to catch birds on the wing. It can even twist and change its direction mid-air. It is also an excellent climber.
It stalks its prey until it is within 5 meters (16 feet), following which it can launch into a sprint. It attack and kill its prey with a bite to the throat or the nape of the neck.
The caracal’s top speed is around 80 km/h (50 mph).
A carnivore, the caracal typically preys upon small mammals, birds and rodents.
The most common prey for caracals are hyraxes, hares, mice and gerbils. However, they are known to bring down large animals, such as gazelle, springbok, reedbuck, blackbuck, impala, kudu, and wild sheep and goats.
If they cannot consume the entire animal at once, they hide it and return to it later, sometimes hauling the carcass up into a tree to keep it safe.
During times of drought, caracals are able to go without water and meet their demand for liquid with the fluids of their prey.
It may scavenge at times, though this has not been frequently observed.
Although primarily nocturnal, caracals can be seen during the day, especially in undisturbed regions.
They are solitary, probably territorial animals, although this may vary with habitat and locality or during mating season or when females are accompanied by kittens.
Like other cats, caracals may purr when content and make a variety of other mews, growls, and hisses to express their mood.
Scent is also used to get a message across, and caracals have scent glands between their toes and on their face.
In addition caracals can sharpen their claws on a tree and mark their territory visually and with scent at the same time.
Breeding takes place throughout the year. Gestation lasts nearly two to three months, following which a litter consisting of one to six kittens is born. Caracal mothers make a den in an abandoned aardvark or porcupine burrow or a previously used den. The kittens are born tiny and helpless, with their eyes sealed shut. The eyes open in about 10 days, and the kittens start eating meat when they are 1 to 2 months old. By this time, they are able to scamper about and follow their mother to learn hunting skills and how to fend for themselves. Their permanent teeth appear at four to five months of age, but they do not strike out on their own until they are about one year old.
The caracal is categorised as Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).
The word “caracal” is from a Turkish word that means “black-eared.”
The caracal appears to have been religiously significant in the ancient Egyptian culture. It occurs in paintings and as bronze figurines; sculptures were believed to guard the tombs of pharaohs. Embalmed caracals have also been discovered. Caracal ear tufts have been elaborately depicted in some tombs, and referred to as umm risha’t (“mother of feathers”).
The caracal’s impressive leaping ability once led to the species being trained to hunt game birds for the Persian and Indian royalty.
Chinese emperors used caracals as gifts. In the 13th and the 14th centuries, Yuan dynasty rulers bought numerous caracals, cheetahs and tigers from Muslim merchants in the western parts of the empire in return for gold, silver, cash and silk.
Until as recently as the 20th century, the caracal was used in hunts by Indian rulers to hunt small game, while the cheetah was used for larger game.