Caracal (Caracal caracal)

Caracals have a reputation as jumpers, where they strike birds to several feet high from the air. Although they are mostly nocturnal and mammals make more than half of its diet throughout its distribution area. Although the plume of stiff bristles on the ears, immediately evokes an association with lynx, they are more closely related to the African golden cat or the serval, while they are sometimes called desert lynx.


The caracal is a medium sized cat, with weights up to 20 kg for males. Females are smaller and remain around or under 13 kg. With a body length ranging between 62 to 91 cm. The shoulder height is from 40 to 50 cm high. The tail is short with 18-34 cm. The coat color is brown to red, with individual variation. Although rare, melanistic caracals do exist. The underside is white with small spots. The head has dark markings around the whiskers, eyebrows and above the middle of the head between the ears. The back of the ears is black with black plumes. The legs are relatively long and the hind legs even extremely long. Longer than the front legs and well muscled. (Kingdon, 2004; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)

The back of the Caracal ears is black with black plumes. photo: Dick Klees


The caracal has a wide distribution. Almost all of Africa, and southwest into central Asia. The population in North Africa is declining. In Africa, their appearance is limited by the Sahara and the forest belt around the equator. In Africa, they achieve higher densities than in Asia. Their initial distribution is strikingly similar to that of the cheetah and prevent various desert gazelles. (Breitenmoser, et al, 2008;. Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)
In North Africa, the caracal occurred in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. Here he is everywhere rare but still possible present, spanning over a large area. Now extinct in Libya, and still present only in the extreme east of Egypt. His nocturnal lifestyle and occurance in low densities, coupled with large territories does not make him easily visible. For an overview of historical data, click here. An update on its recent distribution is urgently needed. Supporting observations using modern techniques must be able to confirm his current status with certainty. Here it NABCS sees itself in cooperation with local employees a first important task.

Food and sufficient cover are in general the habitat requirements for caracal. photo: Dick Klees


Caracals occupy a variety of habitats. One feature is the presence of sufficient coverage. This can be offered by shrubs, dense bushes, tall grass or a stony landscape. Its habitat needs shelters to accommodate as hollow trees, area under boulders or dense vegetation to spend the day resting, and to provide sufficient cover to bring his prey within range of a few jumps. They are found in mountains until height of 3,000 meters (Ethiopia) and seem to prefer a slightly drier environment than, say, the serval. Allthough true deserts are not occupied. In the tropical forests around the equator it is not represented. In Asia, it is found more often in forests than in Africa. The Mediterranean area is possibly an exception with its pine and cedar forests in the Atlas Mountains. (Breitenmoser, et al, 2008;. Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)

Food and hunting technique

Cats are true carnivores, and the the caracal is no exception. Although its spectacularly high jump up to catch birds from the sky, suggesting that he specializes in it, that is not the case. He hunts mainly between sunset and sunrise. But few birds flying in the dark. His main prey therefore consist of medium-sized mammals. Rock hyrax, hares, small monkeys and small antelopes. And birds, especially ground dwellers as fowl and bustards. Doves and partridges are important as seasonal meal. Animals like goats and sheep are the same size in the range of prey and are therefore sometimes hunted, which leads to conflicts with farmers. Yet by sufficient food supply causes rarely a problem. In the event that a caracal meets pets in a fence, they kill more than can be utilized. This has to do with the unnatural situation in which the prey animals are prevented from running away by the fence. The caracal is an exception to the general rule for cats, which normally prey diverting more than their own weight. Caracals are able to prey twice their own weight in charge. Caracals are admittedly less specialized in listening than the serval, yet they can also take prey by hearing. The precise positioning is done by a combination of hearing and seeing. Prey are preferably stalked to within a short distance and then reached by some jumps. Small prey is killed by the jump or with a single bite. Large prey is bitten in the neck and held firmly to block breathing. Remnants of prey are without competitors hidden under branches for later use. Caracals do not store surplus food in trees like leopards. (Grzimek, et al., 2003; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)

Caracal has a reputation, although not specialised, in catching birds, photo: Dick Klees

Behavior and reproduction

Caracals are mostly nocturnal animals who are sometimes seen during the day in an undisturbed environment. They live solitary outside the breeding season. A female lives for a period together with her cups. Both sexes have their own territory. For their size, they have remarkably spacious territorial claims. Males have territories from 31 to 65 square kilometers and females from 4 to 31 square kilometers. In Asia, the territories are by a factor of 3 to 4, substantially larger. Different from other species is that male territories sometimes overlap with several other males, while females do not tolerate any overlap with other females. (More often you see that females do not overlap with females but with males, and males do not with other males) Where can be considered that overlap in space, still may mean that animals live separate in time. Females communicate their fertility by fragrances (pheromones) in their urine to attract males. Females are fertile throughout the year, mainly influenced by her nutritional status. Although they have only one litter per year. Several males may present themselves, from which the female makes a choice. Bigger and older males are preferred over small and young. Although females typically mate with several males, a male can companion a female several days during her fertile period, which lasts about a week. The gestation period takes 68 to 81 days, followed by a litter of no more than three cups in the wild. In captivity up to six.. (Bernard and Stuart, 1987, Breitenmoser et al 2008;. Grzimek, et al., 2003; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)

Development of the cups

Caracals get their litter in a sheltered place. A hollow tree, rock crevice or cave or an abandoned burrow of an aardvark, porcupine, etc. The first month is the female almost constantly with her cups, the males roll is after conception no longer relevant. After this period, she starts to move her cups regularly. This is also the time that the cups begin to play and record solid foods. The female is responsible for the cups to an age of about 15 weeks. But really independent become the cups until the age of 5-6 months. (Bernard and Stuart, 1987; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002) Data from the wild for their overall lifespan are missing. In captivity they can reach an age of 20 years. In the wild often much less, perhaps half that age.

Natural enemies

Caracal enemies are also food competitors. Larger predators are being circumvented by hiding or climbing trees. (Lions, hyenas). This tactic is not working with Leopards. In North Africa, the caracal, besides man (poaching, traffic) and his dogs barely enemies. Feral dogs do pose a threat. De Smet, 1988; Sunquist and Sunquist, 2002)

A road-killed Caracal , Sidi bel abbes, Algeria

Relationship with humans

Caracals are well trained to hunt with. (India and Iran) In Africa they are sometimes eaten. Beneficial for the caracal is the fact that its fur is not very popular. In the case caracal hunts domestic animals like poultry, goats or sheep they are persecuted radical. Caracals often succeed, after an extermination campaign, to re-colonize an area again. As long as they feed on wild mammals and birds, that will not lead to problems.

Status, National and International Protection

The IUCN red list, mentions the caracal in the category of threatened. CITES, listed the species in Appendix I for Asia, Africa Appendix II That means that the species in Asia may not be traded commercially, but for scientific purposes. For Africa this means that the specie can be traded only with a proper license. These authorizations shall ensure that the specie is not experiencing an adverse influence.

North Africa / NABCS:

The species distribution is still scattered but in low densities. Recently, a road victim was noticed in Sidi Bel Abbes, near Tlemcin in North West Algeria. The caracal is everywhere rare and possibly declining. But it is difficult to gather reliable sightings. Again the application of modern techniques with wild-life cameras, will produce more reliable observations. Training and enthusiasm of well-established local people will be crucial for a successful survey in different regions and countries. This should provide the basic information for additional measures to preserve the species inside North Africa. The NABCS provides training and will play a coordinating role as long as necessary to organize it well on the spot. However, always with the aim to develop carrying support locally.


De Smet, K. 1988 Bernard, R., C. Stuart. 1987. Reproduction of the caracal Felis caracal from the Cape Province of South Africa. South African Journal of Zoology, 22/3: 177-182. Breitenmoser, C., P. Hen¬schel, E. Sogbohossou. 2008. "The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 2008" (On-line). Caracal caracal. Accessed March 16, 2009 at Grzimek, B., N. Schlager, D. Olendorf. 2003. Caracal caracal. Pp. 387-388 in M Hutchins, D Klieman, V Geist, M McDade, eds. Grz¬imek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia, Vol. 14, Mammals III, 2nd Edition. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group. Kingdon, J. 2004. The Kingdon Pocket Guide to African Mammals. Italy: Princeton University Press. Sunquist, M., F. Sunquist. 2002. Wild Cats of the World. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.