Class: Mammalia (Mammals)
Body length: 23 to 42 inches (59 to 106 centimeters)
Shoulder height: 18 inches (46 centimeters)
Weight: males—25 to 40 pounds (11.5 to 18 kilograms); females—21 to 24 pounds (9.5 to 11 kilograms)
Life span: up to 12 years in the wild, up to 17 years in zoos
Gestation: 78 to 81 days
Number of young at birth: 1 to 6, average 3
Weight at birth: less than 1 pound (0.4 kilograms)
Age of maturity: 1 year
Conservation status: lower risk, but the population is declining due to habitat loss and hunting by humans.
Caracals can jump up to 10 feet (3 meters) to catch flying birds.
• Like all cats, each caracal’s whiskers are attached in a unique pattern, similar to a fingerprint.
• Both caracals and cheetahs have been trained to stalk and capture prey for their human counterparts.
• The word "caracal" is from a Turkish word which means “black-eared.”
Big cat, small cat
With their sleek, streamlined bodies, reddish gold coats, and the dramatic markings on the face, caracals are among the most beautiful of cats. Also called the desert lynx, medium-sized caracals have no spots or stripes and have longer legs than a true lynx and a slimmer body. They are the heaviest and also the fastest of the small cats. Like the rest of the small cats, they may purr when content and make a variety of other mews, growls, and hisses to express their mood.
The most noticeable feature of a caracal is its long, black ear tufts, or tassels. There are many theories about the function of the ear tufts. Some researchers say the tufts keep flies out of the cat’s face. It is also believed that the ear tufts help to camouflage the animal in tall grass by breaking up the outline of its head. However, the most widely accepted theory is that the cat twitches the ear tufts as a means to communicate with fellow caracals.
Expert bird hunter
Cats must eat meat to survive. Caracals hunt at night but are not picky and will eat any animal they can catch, including rodents, birds, hyraxes, dik-diks, and monkeys. They will even leap on a sitting ostrich! These agile cats are known for their amazing jumping abilities, leaping up to 10 feet (3 meters). Caracals keep their claws sharp to help them capture their prey. Sometimes, they will climb trees and even stash their catch in the branches. Because of their wide range, a caracal may be the top predator in its area, or there may be a larger carnivore (such as a lion or wild dog) to look out for.
Cats and kittens
Caracals are generally solitary and patrol and aggressively defend their territory. Most caracals will come together only to mate, and the male will not stay to help raise the young. Caracal mothers will make a den in an abandoned aardvark or porcupine burrow and will have a litter of several kittens born tiny and helpless with their eyes sealed shut. The kittens’ eyes will open in about 10 days, and they will start eating meat when they are 1 to 2 months old. By this time, they are able to scamper about and follow their mother, but they will not leave her until they are a year old.
All in the family
The caracals’ place in the cat family tree is somewhat muddled, but it is believed that they are closely related to servals. Caracals are found in habitats that are different from their feline cousins. Servals and caracals are similar in size, but servals hunt in wetter habitats, whereas caracals stick to the drier areas. Because of the ear tufts, many scientists also consider them to be related to the lynx.
Despite their secretive habits, caracals have been a part of humans’ lives for hundreds of years. In India and Persia (now known as Iran), they were used to hunt birds for sport. Owners would have contests to see how many pigeons their cat could bring down in a single try, often reaching 10 or more pigeons! In some areas, however, caracals are considered pests. During lean times, caracals hunt livestock as an easy source of food. For this reason, many ranchers will shoot a caracal if they see one. However, caracals also keep down the numbers of small herbivores that compete with the livestock for grazing areas. Unfortunately, most of the Asian caracal populations are dropping rapidly, and new ways need to be found for humans to live with this stealthy cat.