One of the fun things about living in Namibia is that most lodges or rehabilitation centres have interesting animals, either that frequent the places for food or are being homed until they can be reintroduced into the wild. We really don’t like zoos at all so these African areas where we can see unusual animals in their natural state are a bonus for us. On our travels one of the more interesting animals that we have come across is the Caracal (also known as the African Lynx or Desert Lynx) – a stocky, reddish-brown wild cat that is not commonly seen.
Caracals are nocturnal animals that, in the wild, live on a diet of birds, rats, squirrels and larger prey like monkeys and small buck. They are excellent hunters and are skillful at catching birds (pigeons and guinea fowl) as they take to flight. They also often prey on domestic livestock, which makes them a nuisance to farmers. For this reason many are killed, or trapped and injured and sent to rehabilitation centres. We had the privilege of seeing the beautiful specimens in these photos at the Harnas Wildlife Foundation in eastern Namibia and Hammerstein Lodge in the Naukluft Park region.
Caracals are distinguishable by the dark tufts on their long ears, which are black on the back. They are named after this feature as Caracal is derived from the Turkish word ‘karakulak’ which means black ear. In Afrikaans it is called a ‘Rooikat’ (red cat). It looks rather like a domestic cat on steroids with its thickset body and shortish tail (measuring about one-third of its length). The Caracals found in Namibia are the sub-species called the C.c. damarensis and because they live in desert-like conditions they are able to go for long periods of time without water, getting most of their liquid requirements from their prey.
The females are highly territorial, especially against other females, but are not monogamous and mate with up to three males during their estrous cycle of two weeks. During this time they spray urine to invite attention from males. They mate throughout the year, but mostly when they are assured of an abundance of prey. Litters in the wild consist of three kittens, born after a gestation period of between eight and eleven weeks. They have larger litters (up to six kittens) if bred in captivity where food is plentiful. Young Caracals remain with their mothers until they are about a year old. The life expectancy of Caracals depends on their habitat – in the wild they live up to twelve years and in captivity they live about seven years longer.
They are not an endangered species and are also found in large parts of Africa and Asia.