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"Caracal" is derived from the Turkish word karakulak meaning black ear, and it is easy to see why this cat is so named. Each of the caracal's distinctive ears is controlled by about 20 muscles that help these hunters better determine where prey is hiding. The prominent black ear tufts can be up to 1.75 inches long.
The caracal's face is also fairly distinctive, with black markings on the whisker pads, around the eyes, above the eyes and faintly down the center of the head and nose. Otherwise, caracals have brown to red coats, with color varying among individuals. Females are typically lighter than males. Their undersides are white and adorned with many small spots. The legs are relatively long and the hind legs are disproportionately tall and well muscled. Eye color varies from golden or copper to green or grey, and the caracal's pupils contract to a circle rather than a slit. The caracal is 24-40 inches long, not including a tail of 7-13 inches, stands 16-20 inches at the shoulder, and weighs 17-42 pounds.
Distribution and Habitat
Caracals are found throughout much of Africa, the Middle East, and southwestern Asia, with the greatest population densities being seen in southern Africa. An arid climate with minimal foliage cover is preferred, but they also inhabit woodlands, thickets, scrub forest, plains, and rocky hills. They are seldom found in true desert or tropical environments.
Caracals will mate any time of the year. When a female is being courted by multiple males, the group may fight to mate with her or she may choose her mates, preferring older and larger males to younger and smaller males. Females almost always mate with more than one male.
One to six kittens are born after a gestation period of 68-81 days, usually in a tree cavity, cave, or abandoned burrow. The kittens spend the first month of life in the birth burrow, after which the mother may move them continuously. They will be weaned at 4-6 months, and become independent at 9-10 months. Once the young are conceived, males play no role in their direct or indirect care. The mother will not mate again until her kittens are independent.
Strict carnivores, caracals have well-developed senses of hearing and sight, both of which are used to detect prey. Capable of taking down animals up to twice their size, almost any animal can be on a caracal's menu, including antelopes, ostriches, and small monkeys. They have also been observed leaping up as high as 10 feet into the air and killing flying birds. Prey are usually stalked to within a few long bounds, then captured when the caracal leaps using its disproportionately long and muscular back legs.
Other Habits and Behaviors
Caracals are solitary, coming together only for mating. They are primarily nocturnal, but may be seen during day, especially in undisturbed areas.
Both sexes are terretorial and maintain active home ranges. Males have larger home ranges than females, and each male's range may overlap those of several other males'. Each female, however, defends her entire territory for her individual use.
Caracals are skilled climbers, but generally only take to trees to avoid danger.
Fairly aggressive and confident, caracals are known to chase off predators twice their size, and are not afraid to compete with other predators over a kill.
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This page was last updated on June 09, 2017.