Caracal

Caracal

[ Caracal caracal ]

Quick Facts

BODY LENGTH: 24 to 26 inches
TAIL LENGTH:

10 to 13 inches

WEIGHT: males: 26 to 44 pounds; females: 18 to 29 pounds
WILD DIET: hyraxes, medium-sized antelope and deer, birds of all sizes, rodents, and reptiles
ZOO DIET: fortified beef, mice, pork, and shank bones
DISTRIBUTION: almost all of Africa except the rain forest belt and the driest deserts; in Asia, dry zones of Arabia eastwards to central India
HABITAT: dry savannahs, mountains, hills, and grasslands with at least sparse vegetation

 

Grace Under Pressure

It’s hard to be a hunter
Catching live animals for survival is a tough way to live. A predator’s life depends on catching enough prey to survive. The pressure is always on because most hunting attempts fail. One of the most masterful of hunters is the caracal, a small and graceful cat that is up to the task when it comes to hunting. Weighing in at a maximum of 44 pounds---and usually much less---the caracal is among the most formidable of all predators for its size.

The complete hunting package
What makes the caracal such an effective hunter? It is fast, agile, and powerful. Over a short distance the caracal is incredibly quick, propelled by its strong hind legs. These legs also provide remarkable jumping ability. When they are hunting small birds, caracals launch themselves high into the air, twisting and bending in effort to intercept one of the flock. They grasp a single bird in mid-flight with both claws, or sometimes bat a couple of birds right out of the air. With their speed, caracals can run down fast rabbits and small, quick antelope.

Caracals are strong enough to hunt large prey, too, regularly taking animals over twice their own weight. They have been documented to tackle creatures as big as adult impala, domestic calves, and young kudus. Even an adult ostrich, if sitting down, can fall victim to this versatile carnivore.

Feline elegance
Long and lean, the caracal is among the most beautiful of cats. With their black-tufted ears, caracals look somewhat like bobcats or lynxes. But they are only distantly related to these North American species. Caracals have long rear legs and shorter forelegs, so they have a slightly sloping back. The soft, thick fur ranges from sandy brown to nearly wine red, and lightens in intensity from the back to the sides. The belly is yellowish-white, sometimes with a few brown spots.

Vast and dry
Caracals live in harsh, dry habitat: the arid savannahs of Africa through the near east, and all the way to India and Russia. They are at home in mountains, rocky hills, plains, and open grassland, as long as there is a little vegetation for concealment. Caracals avoid dense forests.

Africa’s other cats
Everyone has heard about Africa’s big cats: lions, leopards, and cheetahs. But few people know there are seven other species of cats in Africa. Can you name them? In addition to the caracal, there’s the sand cat, serval, golden cat, African wild cat, black-footed cat, and swamp cat All these cats are small (the caracal is the largest of them), but like their big relatives, they hunt for a living.

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Conservation Fund of the Chicago Zoological Society