The caracal is a striking medium-sized, robustly built cat with long powerful legs, large paws, a short tail and ear tips with long hair tufts. In South Africa, the caracal is also known as a ‘rooikat’ or ‘lynx.’ And although many know them as ‘lynx,’ they are actually only distantly related to other “true” lynxes such as the Eurasian lynx, the Canadian lynx, the Iberian lynx, and the bobcat in the United States.
The most distinguishing feature of caracals are their very sharply pointed, lavishly tufted ears. They have short, dense coats and range in color (depending on geographic locality) from light sandy through reddish-fawn or light cinnamon to deep brownish-red, reddish-grey or rich brick-red. Although they appear to be mostly uniformly colored, upon closer inspection, subtle black and white markings are present on their face, and they have white “bellies” with dramatic red spots.
Caracals are extremely widespread; they are found throughout Africa, the Middle East and southwestern Asia. Within southern Africa, they are particularly widespread, and are so numerous within areas such as the Western Cape of South Africa that they are considered ‘pests’ because some individuals will prey on livestock in farming areas. Their reported highest population density in the mountainous terrain of the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. Though essentially an animal of dry regions, the caracal has a wide habitat tolerance: woodlands, savannas and acacia scrub throughout Africa; jungle scrub and desert in India; arid, sandy regions and steppes in Asia.
Like most wild cats, caracals are primarily solitary and territorial animals. However, they may form pairs for the duration of mating or small mother-offspring groups during rearing of young. Adult males hold territories which they patrol widely, mark with urine and scats, and defend against other adult males. Male ranges are up to 3 times larger than female ranges and may overlap the ranges of several females. Typical cat vocalizations of growls, spits, hisses and miaows, but also a distinctive loud coughing call, similar to a leopard’s, during mating; purrs like a domestic cat when content.
Caracals normally start foraging (hunting for prey) in early evening and are typically active until sunrise. It is thought that in remote areas where there is less human disturbance, caracals may exhibit more daytime activity. Caracals spend virtually all their time on the ground, but are also adept at climbing trees and masses of broken rock when they need to.
Their powerful hindquarters can launch caracals 3 meters (10 feet) into the air from a sitting position. Like most cats, their sight and hearing are very good while their sense of scent is moderate.
Fun Caracal Facts.
Due to similar distinctive ear tufts and short tail, the caracal is often called a ‘desert lynx’ though it is not closely related to the lynxes of the northern hemisphere. Caracal comes from the Turkish name ‘Karakulak’, meaning ‘black ear’. Egyptians portrayed caracals in wall paintings and in bronze as elegant hieratic figures sitting upright or as guardians of tombs; they also embalmed their bodies and placed them in tombs. In Persia and India, the caracal was trained to hunt birds as well as hares, foxes and small antelope
Text by Laurel Klein Serieys, 2015
Urban Caracal Project