CatSG

Caracal

Caracal caracal

IUCN Red List: Least Concern

Weight: 6-18 kg
Body length: 80-100 cm
Tail length: 20-34 cm
Longevity: 16-19 years
Litter size: 1-6 cubs

Description

Caracal in the Duzlercami Game Reserve in Antalya,Turkey.

Molecular evidence supports the classification of the caracal as a monophyletic genus. It is closely related to the African golden cat (Caracal aurata) and the serval (Leptailurus serval). In the past it was classified with Lynx and Felis but is not closely related to them.

The caracal is a mid-sized cat with a slender, conspicuous, tall body and long legs. It is the largest of the African small cats. The fur of the caracal is short and tawny-brown to brick-red coloured without any markings, the insides of its legs and its underparts are whitish. Near the nose and the eyes, the face is marked with dark lines and white spots. Melanistic animals also occur. In central Israel, there was a dark form described with adults coloured grey and young kittens almost fully black. Caracals occurring in the Arabian Peninsula are generally smaller and paler than caracals from other regions. The caracal's common name comes from the Turkish word "karakulak" meaning "black ears". It derives from its special ears which are black on the back and have a triangular shape tipped with 4-5 cm long black hair tufts. In the region of Abbas'abad Naein, Iran, the caracal is named black-eared cat, tufted-eared cat or secretive cheetah by local people. Its tail is short and measures about a third of the head and body length. Between its pads, it has stiff hairs as an adaptation to travelling over sand. As with other desert species the caracal has excellent sight and hearing. There is sexual dimorphism with males being on average larger than females in all respects. The caracals in India are somewhat smaller than those of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Other names

Language/Country

Name

Afghanistan (Dari)

psk qarh qol

Arabic

ajal, anaq al ardh, washeq, al khanaq, hirr khuwainga, tiffa

English

desert lynx

Farsi

Caracal

French

Caracal 

German

Caracal, Wüstenfuchs

India (Kutchi dialect of Gujarat)

harnotro (killer of blackbuck)

Mahri, Jibali

Khanshant

Russia

karakal

Saudi Arabia

itfah

Spanish

caracal, lince africano

Turkish

karakulak

Uzbek

karakulak

Status and Distribution

The caracal is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List. On the Arabian Peninsula it is listed as Least Concern as the species is considered to be widespread. However, it may is close to classify as Near Threatened as the caracal is declining in some range states. The caracal is considered as rare in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. In Saudi Arabia the species was recorded in the mountains of the southwest and in Harrat al Harrah. However, its trend in the country is not known. In the United Arab Emirates caracals are found in wadis in the northern mountains and the species is considered to be declining. In Oman caracals were recorded in the Dhofar, Jiddat al Harasis, Hajar mountains and Musandam. However, the population trend and status in Oman is not well known. In Yemen, caracals are thought to be stable. They were recorded from the southern and eastern borders. In the Hawf Protected Area, Yemen, the caracal was considered as widely distributed and quite common in a study from 2010 - 2012.

At the edges of its distribution range in the Central Asian republics and India, the caracal is rare and its status is not well known. In India, the caracal is supposed to have a patchy distribution, populations are declining and it is probably even on the verge of extinction. In India, the caracal is locally endangered and is listed as a Schedule I species by the Indian Wildlife Act of 1972. In Turkey, where the species was widely distributed all along the Aegean, Mediterranean coast and southern Turkey into Iran, the caracal is now believed to occur in the southwest of the country, to be very rare and probably endangered. However its status in Turkey is not well known. In Iran, the species is declining and classified as threatened. However it is considered to have a wide distribution throughout the eastern half of the country. In the protected areas of Bahram'gur and Abbas'abad Naein, the caracal seems to be the most abundant felid species. The species is found mostly in the desert mountains and hilly terrians. In Afghanistan caracals were recorded in the Sare Pul of Jozjan province, northern steppes, Hari Rud, Murghab and Amu Darya (Turkestan). In Turkmenistan the species was detected in the Badhyz State nature reserve.  

Regional caracal populations are likely to fluctuate depending on prey availability. The status and population trends of the caracal in Asia are largely unknown and there are no reliable population estimates available.

The caracal has a broad geographical range which extends from northern Africa and Turkey through the Arabian Peninusla and the Middle East to Turkmenistan and northwestern India.

Extant distribution area of the caracal (IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016).
Extant distribution area of the caracal in Asia (IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016).

Habitat

The caracal inhabits a broad variety of habitats and can tolerate very dry conditions. It occurs in semi-deserts, steppes, savannah, scrubland, dry forest and moist woodland or evergreen forest. It prefers open terrain and drier, scrubby, arid habitats and needs cover. The caracal is typically associated with either well-vegetated or rocky areas. The maquis vegetation, which is rich with birds and small mammals, is known to be preferred in Turkey. On the Arabian Peninsula caracals are mainly found in desert wadis, foothills, mountains and basalt fields. In Dhofar and eastern Yemen the caracal has been recorded in wooded mountains. In India, the caracal inhabits mainly tropical dry deciduous and tropical thorn and shrub forests. In a study from the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan, western India, caracal occurrence was related to forest and terrain ruggedness. These habitats provide cover for hunting, shelter and prey species. In Iran, most of the caracal observations have been made in desert mountains and hilly terrains which are thought to be inhabited by rodents and hares. A caracal which was radio-collared in 1996 in Saudi Arabia mainly used well-vegetated wadis with high small mammal densities. The caracal does not inhabit true deserts and tropical rainforests. Caracals are recorded from sea level up to 3,000 m.

Caracal in the Duzlercami Game Reserve in Antalya, Turkey.
Caracal in the Yemen.

Ecology and Behaviour

Caracal in Duzlercami Game Reserve in Antalya-Turkey.

The caracal is solitary and is predominantly nocturnal, but it can also be active during the day depending on its habitat (particularly in protected areas) and the daily temperatures. In the Hawf Protected Area in Yemen for example caracals were mainly active at daytime. The species increases its daytime activity in winters. Usually the caracal may rest in dense vegetation or a rocky crevice, and may also use a burrow for shelter during warm days.

The caracal primarily hunts on the ground in spite of being an adept climber. It is known for its extraordinary jumping - it can jump two meters or more into the air. It often stalks birds and is then able to spring up and grab them when they flush. Traditionally, people in India and Iran tamed and used them for sport to watch contests with fenced caracals taking pigeons in this way. The caracal is adapted to dry habitats and is able to satisfy its moisture requirements from its prey when necessary.

The home ranges of male caracals are larger than those of the females and typically include several female ones. Home ranges in arid areas are larger than the ones in more moist habitats. In Israel's Negev Desert, home ranges averaged 221 + 132 km² for males and 57 + 55 km² for females. In Saudi Arabia, one male had a home range of 270-1116 km² in different seasons. Home ranges are marked with urine, scat and claw marks. For communication the caracals are also known to actively use their ears.

The reproductive season probably takes place all year round. Females seem to copulate with several males in a "pecking order" which is related to the age and size of the male. Generation length is probably around 6 years. Estrus lasts for 5-6 days, the estrus cycle for 14 days and the gestation for 78-80 days. The first reproduction takes place at 12.5-15 months for males and at 14-16 months for females. Gametogenesis can occur somewhat earlier. One female gave birth at 18 years and caracals may have one litter annually. Age at independence is with 9-10 months.

Prey

The caracal is a generalist predator. Its diet varies from region to region depending on prey availability and abundance. It preys mainly on a variety of small to medium sized mammals and birds. The caracal usually takes prey weighing less than 5 kg such as young antelopes, hares, rodents, hyraxes, birds, mice and sometimes also invertebrates, fish and reptiles. The caracal has also the ability to take snakes. The caracal is able to kill prey measuring 2-3 times its own size such as for example goitered gazelles (Gazella subgutturosa). The caracal also preys occasionally on domestic animals such as sheep, goats and poultry in some regions. Outside protected areas, domestic stock can make up a significant part of the caracals diet. The caracal often scavenges. In Israel, caracals prey mainly on hares and birds such as chukars (Alectoris chukar) and desert partridges (Ammoperdix heyi). Sometimes, they also take desert hedgehog (Paraechinus aethiopicus), Egyptian mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon) and rodents like the Palestine mole rate (Spalax leucodon ehrenbergi) or reptiles. In Turkmenistan, tolai hares were the most important prey species. In Iran, however, rodents seem to play an important part in the diet of the caracal and ground living birds are potential prey. In the Bahram'gur protected area, Iran, the main prey species were cape hare and various rodents. In India, the prey differs from small antelopes such as Chinkara antelopes (Gazella bennettii), weighing some 20-30 kg, and Black buck antelopes (Antilope cervicapra) 25 - 35 kg and goats to three striped palm squirrels (Funambulus palmarum), Indian hares (Lepus nigricollis), rodents, reptiles such as monitor lizards (Varanus bengalensis), birds, beetles and crickets. In the Arabian Peninsula, caracals feed on birds small mammals, gazelles, lizards and snakes. It takes rodents such as the Libyan Jird (Meriones libycus) but has also been recorded to feed on Arabian Sand Gazelle (Gazella subgutterosa marica) and once on a Steppe Eagle (Aquila niplaensis).

Main Threats

A female caracal captured at Antalya, Turkey, in 1997. The capture was done after local authorities claimed that the caracal numbers have been increased and the species was preying on the Bezoar goat (Capra aegagrus), which is hunted by the government for its trophy. However, none of these issues had been proven by any scientific studies before the capture.

Habitat loss and fragmentation are probably the main threats to caracals in the Asian part of its distribution range. In the Middle East, also prey base depletion is a serious problem. Gazelle populations have greatly declined across the Arabian Peninsula and during periods of drought the rodent prey base is likely reduced. Persecution and hunting can have a major impact too. The caracal seems to be able to withstand a certain hunting pressure but in areas where it is naturally sparsely distributed or where it has been reduced to fragmented pockets, hunting is likely a significant threat. On the Arabian Peninsula, habitat loss and fragmentation mainly caused by road and settlement construction are threatening the species. In some parts of its range the caracal is perceived as a pest due to livestock predation and shot, trapped and poisoned. This is especially a threat on the Arabian Peninsula but also in parts of Turkey. Road accidents are another problem. In some markets in the United Arab Emirates caracals have been seen for sale for the international pet trade. The impact of this trade on wild caracal populations is not yet understood. In iran, main problems are road kills and attacks by dogs. In Afghanistan habitat loss and hunting pressure, in India habitat destruction and increased human disturbance may are the major threats. Protected areas are under high pressure from agriculture and livestock grazing. Moreover, domestic dogs are thought to be big competitors to the caracal.

Its status, trends and ecology in Asia are not well known and little has been published in this regard.

Conservation Efforts and Protection Status

The caracal populations in Asia are included in Appendix I of CITES. The caracal is classified as Critically Endangered in the Oman National Red Data Book. The caracal is legally protected in most of its range countries, but better implementation of legislation is needed. Hunting is prohibited in Afghanistan, India, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The species is legally protected in all range countries on the Arabian Peninsula.

There are efforts to improve the knowledge about the status and the ecology of the caracal outside Africa and protected areas. For example, a caracal project to research habitat ecology of the caracal was established in Turkey. Such projects are important to set priorities and are fundamental for the conservation of the caracal and the development of effective and ecologically sound methods for its management, especially on private land. Caracals have an adaptable behaviour which seems to enable them to recolonize vacant areas after local extirpation. Without heavy persecution, the caracal adjusts well to living in settled areas. In this regard, there is a need to minimize conflict with humans mainly with farmers, and more effective small stock protection. Caracals can even be beneficial for crop farmers since they can effectively limit pests such as hyrax populations.

Generally, very little is known about the caracal's ecology, behavior, threats, distribution and status in Asia. There is an urgent need for more research on this species to can define its status and effective conservation measures.