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Caracal


The Caracal in appearance resembles the Lynx in having characteristic dark tufts on its large, pointed ears and is indeed often referred to as the African Lynx or Desert Lynx, however the caracal is not closely related to the true lynx species. Extending the visual comparison, the body of the caracal is slimmer and less stocky, its legs are thinner and its tail longer than the Lynx. It can grow up to 3 feet in body length and sport a tail about a third of its body size. Its coloration is generally yellowish brown to a darker red/brown, with the undersides of the cat, areas around the eyes and under the chin being white. The backs of its ears are black – the name Caracal is derived from the Turkish word ‘karakulak’, meaning ‘black ear’. Melanistic or all black caracal have also been reported.

The habitat of the caracal varies depending on the location within its range, which spreads from Central and Southern Africa (excluding the areas of dense tropical vegetation along the equator), through parts of the Middle East and Southern Asia across into India. The cat is found in dry savanna and woodland areas, scrubland and rugged terrain in mountainous regions, where it is known to live up to 3000 metres. Like other cats found in dry, arid or semi-dessert locations the caracal can survive for long periods without water, instead obtaining its requirement form the metabolic moisture of its prey.

Altogether there are seven named subspecies to be found in the African continent and only two in the Asiatic part of its range. Within Africa, the caracal is most abundant in South Africa (C.c.caracal) and in Namibia (C.c.damarensis), although populations in other areas of the continent are also believed to be of sufficient numbers to make the cat secure in most of its African range. Outside Africa, the Turkmenian caracal (C.c.michaelis) and South West Asian caracal C.c.schmitzi found to the extreme east of its range through to north west India are less abundant. There is some evidence to support the theory the Turkmenian caracal is not a valid subspecies and should be grouped with South West Asian form. However if separate subspecies are accepted then the Turkmenian cat is to be considered rare.

In hunting, the caracal is mainly nocturnal, but will also use the twilight hours to search out its prey. Diurnal activity has also been observed, specially in the hunting of bird. For its size the caracal is strong and fast, and as well as taking smaller prey such as jerboas, sand rat, ground squirrel and rock hyrax, it can also bring down the larger reedbuck and duiker. Much in the way of the Leopard , the caracal will sometimes cache its larger prey up in the lower limbs of trees and return to feed on its kill over several days. The caracal is also well known for using its agility and superior jumping ability to catch birds just after take-off – here prey species include pidgeons and guineafowl.

In most parts of its range the caracal has no set breeding period and a female may often mate with up to three males .The litter size is usually between 1-6 kittens and they are born after a gestation period of approximately 71 days. The kittens have a daily weight gain of approximately 21g per day and although they reach maturity at about 16-18 months of age they are often independent from about 12 months.

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