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The caracal (Caracal caracal) is a fiercely territorial medium-sized cat ranging over the Middle East and Africa. The word caracal comes from the Turkish word "karakulak", meaning "black ear". Although it has traditionally had the alternative names Persian Lynx, Egyptian Lynx and African Lynx, it is no longer considered to be an actual lynx. Instead, it is now believed to be closely related to the African golden cat and the Serval. The caracal is classified as a small cat, yet is amongst the heaviest of all small cats, as well as the quickest, being nearly as fast as the serval.

Description

Males typically weigh 13-18 kgs (28-40 lbs), while females weigh about 11 kg (24 lb). The caracal resembles a Eurasian Lynx, and for a long time it was considered a close relative of the lynxes. It has a tail nearly a third of its body length, and both sexes look the same. The caracal is 65-90 cm in length (about 2-3 ft), plus 30 cm tail (about 1 ft). Compared to lynxes, it has longer legs and a slimmer appearance. The colour of the fur varies between wine-red, grey, or sand-coloured. Melanistic (black) caracals also occur. Young caracals bear reddish spots on the underside; adults do not have markings except for black spots above the eyes. Underparts of chin and body are white, and a narrow black line runs from the corner of the eye to the nose.

The pupils of a caracal's eyes contract to form circles rather than the slits found in most small cats. The most conspicuous feature of the caracal is elongated, tufted black ears, which also explain the origin of its name, karakulak, Turkish for "black ear". A juvenile has black on the outside of the ears, which disappears as it becomes an adult. Its ears, which it uses to locate prey, are controlled by 20 different muscles.

Habitat and diet

The caracal is distributed over Africa and the Middle East. Its chief habitat is dry steppes and semideserts, but it also inhabits woodlands, savannah, and scrub forest. It dwells either alone or in pairs. The caracal may survive without drinking for a long period — the water demand is satisfied with the body fluids of its prey.

It hunts at night (but in colder seasons also in the daytime) for rodents and hares; rarely it attacks animals larger than itself, such as gazelles, small antelopes, or young ostriches. It is a picky eater, and discards the internal organs of the mammals it catches, partially plucks the fur off hyraxes and larger kills, and avoids eating hair by shearing meat neatly from the skin. However, it will eat the feathers of small birds and is tolerant of rotten meat. It is among the smallest felids to attack prey larger than itself.

It is best known for its spectacular skill at hunting birds, able to snatch a bird in flight, sometimes more than one at a time. It can jump and climb exceptionally well, which enables it to catch hyraxes better than probably any other carnivore. Its life expectancy in the wild is 12 years, and 17 years in captivity. Since it is also surprisingly easy to tame, it has been used as a hunting cat in Iran and India.

Reproduction

Mating may occur at anytime of year; however, it is more likely to occur when nutrition status is optimal, which stimulate estrous in females. Gestation last 68–81 days, and litter size ranges from 1 to 6 kittens. For litters born in their natural environment, the maximum number of kittens is three; however, larger litters are more likely to occur in captivity where nutrition needs are adequately met. Kittens reach independence at 9 to 10 months of age, but do not successfully mate until 14 to 15 months of age.

Conservation

Caracals are often viewed as vermin by farmers in Africa as they may prey on domesticated livestock such as poultry and young sheep and goats. Caracals are rarely seen in the wild despite their relative abundance, as they hide extremely well. Game drives in countries such as Kenyamarker and Botswanamarker widely encounter other animals, but a sighting of a caracal is extremely rare.

Because it is so easily tamed, the caracal is sometimes kept as a pet and can adapt to living with humans. The caracal has been hybridised with the domestic cat at the Moscow Zoo.

Subspecies



Alternative names

In North India and Pakistan, the caracal is locally known as syahgosh (स्याहगोष/سیاحگوش) or shyahgosh, which is a Persian-derived term meaning black ears.

References

  1. http://www.honoluluzoo.org/caracal.htm
  2. http://www.scienceinafrica.co.za/2004/january/caracal.htm
  3. http://www.animalorphanagekenya.org/members/brandy_for_breakfast.php


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