The Caracal (Felis caracal) is an elegant, medium-sized cat and widespread in open country across much of Africa. Elusive and largely nocturnal, it is seldom seen on safari – although smaller reserves in South Africa’s Cape and Karoo regions have a good reputation for sightings.
It is a powerful predator, distinguished by its reddish-brown coat, short tail and lynx-like tufted ears. Long back legs propel a prodigious leap, enabling it to capture birds in flight.
- The caracal is the origin of the expression ‘put the cat among the pigeons’. In ancient India and Iran, trained caracals were released into arenas containing a flock of pigeons. Wagers were then placed on how many birds the cat would take down in a leap.
- Caracals occur outside Africa, ranging through the Arabian Peninsula and as far east as Pakistan and western India.
- Caracals are known on occasion to store their kills in trees, in the manner of leopards. This habit is likely to occur in areas with a high density of hyenas.
- Though sometimes known as the African lynx, due to its short tail, tufted ears and long hind legs, the caracal is now thought to be more closely related to the African golden cat (Caracal aurata) and serval (Leptailurus serval) than to any members of the lynx genus. Its taxonomy remains a matter of debate.
- Caracals are capable of taking small, domestic livestock and thus suffer heavy persecution from farmers. From 1931 to 1952, an average of 2,219 caracals per year were killed in control operations in South Africa’s Karoo.