Long, black tufted ears are the distinguishing feature of the caracal, a sleek, medium-sized wild cat found in Africa and Asia. In fact, the name caracal means “black ears” from the Turkish word, karrah-kulak.
Although caracals’ ears are black, most of their bodies are a golden-reddish hue. They have white fur on their bellies and chins.
The caracal is also sometimes called the desert lynx, African lynx or Persian lynx. Although lynxes and caracals both have ear tufts, caracals are not members of the lynx family.
Caracals are 40-50 cm (15-20 in.) tall at the shoulder and between 83-115 cm (33-45 in.) in length including their tail. They weigh between 8-19 kg (18-42 lb.). They have long hind legs. Like all cats, they have whiskers.
Caracals are found in several different habitats. These include dry mountains, dry woodlands, savannas, and semi-deserts. Because they often live in dry areas, they can go long periods without drinking water, but they do need to eat often.
What Caracals Eat
Nocturnal carnivores, caracals hunt alone at night, traveling up to 20 km (12.5 mi.) in search of prey. They use their natural camouflage, their keen sight, and their superior sense of hearing to stalk and pounce on their prey. They are very agile and can jump as high as 3 m (10 ft.) in the air!
Caracals hunt any prey they can catch, including birds, rodents, dik-diks, mongooses, and monkeys. They can also take down large animals like antelopes with a bite to the neck. Their primary diet depends on what is available in their habitat. Sometimes they eat livestock. They may not finish their meal right away and will stash it in a tree or in some brush for later.
For the most part, caracals live alone unless they are mating. Mating can happen at any time of year when food is abundant. The males usually do not stay to raise the young. Female caracals make a maternal den in a burrow built by another animal, a crevice, a cave, or in dense brush. They give birth to a litter of 1-6 kittens after 2-3 months of gestation.
Baby caracals are mostly helpless at birth. They can fully open their eyes about 7-10 days after birth. After the first month, the mother and kittens move out and continue traveling.
Kittens are ready to move out on their own after 5-6 months. Because of the amount of time the mother spends with her kittens, she will only have one litter a year.
Caracals live for about 12 years in the wild. They have a few natural predators, like lions, but they’re not often caught due to their camouflage and excellent jumping and climbing skills.
Caracals are listed as species of least concern by the IUCN Redlist, but they still face threats, especially in parts of Asia and Northern Africa. Humans hunt caracals because they prey on livestock. They are also threatened by habitat loss.