Unlike the much rarer European lynx they are so common in South Africa and Namibia that they are considered something of a pest! There are barely any African lynx to be found in North-West or Central Africa but the animal is not considered to be at risk thanks to the higher concentrations found elsewhere in Africa. The caracal is also found in central and South-West Asia, with some specimens even being found as far away as India.
The caracal is an attractive, medium-sized cat, known for its distinctive black ear tufts. These long tufts have given rise to the name caracal, which is derived from the Turkish 'kara kulak' meaning 'black ear.' The coat is usually a uniform reddish, sandy-brown or grey-brown, depending on the individual, with occasional rare instances of pure black caracals being spotted. The caracal does not have any markings such as spots or stripes except for the appearance of large soft spots on the underside of the white or pale-coloured belly. The eyes range from green to copper and are wide and intelligent looking. They have long limbs and weigh anywhere from 7 to 20 kilos, with the males being slightly larger and heavier than the females. Their facial markings add to their good looks, with white patches by the chin and under the whiskers, and black touches creating 'eyebrows' and giving definition to the side of the head.
Caracals are widespread for reason. They are very adaptable and can survive in a variety of different environments. Caracals, as a rule, do not favour tropical rainforest areas, nor do they like full desert landscapes. Their preferred habitat is in the transition between forest and open grassland, in a relatively dry area. These habitats can be found across Southern Africa hence their large numbers. Their colouring allows them to blend in with both the dried grass and the sandy soil found in such areas, and to hide in the dappled shade of the sparse foliage.
Caracals are carnivores, subsisting entirely on meat. Their prey is generally small mammals such as rock hyraxes, rodents, hares, small monkeys and birds. They catch the latter by springing as high as 2 metres in the air to take the bird by surprise. When the opportunity presents itself caracals will however tackle larger prey and they are known to have even brought down the occasional gazelle. It is more common for them to catch the smaller antelope. Caracals, like the other big cats, rely on stealth to bring them close to their target, and then they close the small distance with a couple of bounds and pounce. Smaller prey is dispatched with a swift bite to the neck, while larger animals are killed using a strangling throat bite, while the claws are used to disable and subdue any struggles. They are very efficient and successful – another reason for their large numbers.
Photo: Jukani Sanctuary, South Africa. www.jukani.co.za/