The Caracal is the biggest and arguably fiercest of the small wildcats occurring in South Africa. Males may weigh up to 22kg and stand 45cm high at the shoulder, females are slightly smaller. They inhabit every imaginable habitat in the country, from the driest desert to temperate forests. Caracals prey mainly on small and medium-sized mammals, from rodents to antelope the size of impala. They’re extremely agile and can catch birds out of the air! They’ll also take reptiles (including venomous snakes) and other carnivores, like foxes and jackals. Caracals do not require regular access to drinking water.
Caracals are mainly active from dusk to dawn, although they may hunt throughout the day in inclement weather. By day they shelter in thickets or long grass. They’re solitary animals and any groups consist of either a female with her cubs or a female in oestrus being accompanied by a male. Males are territorial and their areas overlap the home ranges of several females.
Females give birth to litters of 1-6 cubs (usually 2 or 3) at any time of year. Popular den sites include thickets, hollow trees, animal burrows and rocky crevices. The female raises the cubs alone until they become independent when they’re about 10 months old. Caracals only rarely fall prey to bigger carnivores, and have a life expectancy in the wild of between 11 and 18 years.
Overall, the IUCN considers the Caracal to be of least concern, although several specific populations in various countries are declining and range from rare to threatened with local extinction. Caracals are widely distributed through Africa (except the equatorial forests), the Middle East and into the Indian subcontinent. In South Africa they can be found in every corner of the country – even in some of our biggest cities – despite being persecuted as killers of small livestock.