Many of us think of tigers, lions, cheetahs and leopards when we think of wild cats. However, there are hundreds of other species of cats in the wild that are just as remarkable, albeit smaller.
The “desert lynx”, or caracal, is one of them.
The beautiful cat is so named because of its tufted black ears. “Caracal” derives from the Turkish word “karakulak”, which means “black ear”.
The caracal is not related to the lynx, however, and is native to Africa, Central Asia, Southwest Asia and India.
Many scientists have speculated about why caracals have ear tufts. It could be to keep flies out of their face, or help with camouflaging them. However, most believe the cat twitches its ear tufts to communicate with other caracals. Fascinating!
The cats can grow up to 50 pounds. Their beige/orange fur and white underbelly let them blend into their natural habitat of desert and grasslands.
Caracals hunt at night, so during the day they tend to rest and sleep.
They are normally solitary animals, but some live in pairs. Females normally give birth to between one and six kittens, once per year.
Caracal mothers make a den in the ground, sometimes in an abandoned aardvark or porcupine burrow.
They stay with their mother for close to a year before leaving to establish their own territory.
They are adorable when they are kittens!
They are known for their speed and agility which makes them excellent hunters.
They can take down prey two to three times their size and they can leap high into the air (close to 10 feet!) to snatch a flying bird. Caracals will also hunt fish, lizards, snakes, baby antelope, rodents, hares.
Their skills as hunters lead them to be trained to hunt birds in ancient Iran and India.
Sometimes, a caracal was put into a stadium along with a flock of pigeons. People would make bets on how many pigeons the caracal would kill during a set time span.
A well-trained caracal could take down up to twelve pigeons in one leap with its large paws and strong legs! This is where the expression “to put a cat amongst the pigeons” came from.
The cats are easy to tame, but are not considered suitable as house pets, although a few that have been come from a line that has been crossbred to be a “domesticated” caracal.
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