caracal, also known as desert lynx (Caracal caracal), is a medium-sized feline with reddish coats and tufted ears, caracals are incredibly striking animals. They are also the heaviest of the small African cats.

Species

The caracal is a unique species and there are no subspecies of this animal.

As with all felines, the caracal places great importance on its hygiene.

Features

The Caracal is the largest feline in the category of the smallest in Africa, weighing between 11 and 20 kg, and is classified as a "medium" cat. Males are approximately 25% larger than females.

This medium-sized feline has a robust build and is the most powerful of the small cats. Its hindquarters are slightly higher than its shoulders as the hind legs are longer than the front legs. The tail is short in relation to the length of its body.

Its smooth coat is thick but short and smooth. The color ranges from yellowish brown, pale reddish to brick red, gray or sand. The underparts are whitish in color with faint spots or spots. Caracals are one of the few species of cats that do not have spots or stripes. Melanistic (black) caracals also occur but are extremely rare.

The caracal's face has prominent black and white markings around the eyes and mouth, with white under the chin.

The long, pointed ears have long black hair strands at the tip. The back of the ears is black, abundantly dotted with white hairs. In addition, as a curiosity, their ears have more than 20 different muscles.

The young are distinguished by their shorter ear locks and tinted blue eyes. The subspecies of C. caracal may not be distinguishable by phenotype. Females are smaller and weigh less than 13 kg, while males can weigh up to 20 kg. It is possible for a large female to weigh more than a small male.

Although the tail is short, it still makes up a significant part of the total body length. The length of the tail varies from 18 cm to 34 cm. The length of the head and body is measured from the nose to the base of the tail and ranges from 62 to 91 cm. Even the smallest adult is larger than most domestic cats.

We can contemplate the magnificent ears of the caracal.

Communication and perception

There has never been a comprehensive study of communication in caracals. Most of the information comes from individuals held in captivity.

Like other felines, they have well-developed senses of hearing and sight. Although characterized by their incredible hearing, caracals can also detect small prey just by sound. Once the prey is detected, its sharp eyesight is used to narrow the target. The exact function of the plumes in C. caracal is unknown. However, some zookeepers speculate that they may be used in intraspecific communication. If this were the case, this social communication would be limited by the solitary nature of the animal.

In captivity, caracals are known for their husky vocalizations. These cats communicate with a series of growls, spittlebugs, hisses, and meows. Tactile communication, such as fighting and snuggling, has been observed during mating periods. A potential partner is drawn to scent cues. Hormonal changes in women cause a change in the composition of urine. When the female is ready to mate, she deposits her scent in various places to attract males. The males can then perceive the aroma through the vomeronasal organ.

Behavior

Like most wild cats, caracals are primarily solitary and territorial animals. However, they can form pairs during mating or small groups of mothers and children during rearing. Adult males have territories that they patrol extensively, mark with urine and excrement, and defend themselves against other adult males. Male ranges are up to 3 times larger than female ranges and can overlap the ranges of multiple females.

The typical cat vocalizations of growling, spitting, hissing and meowing, but also a distinctive loud cough, similar to that of a leopard, during mating; it purrs like a house cat when it is happy.

They are mainly nocturnal animals, although within Table Mountain National Park on the Cape Peninsula, the diurnal activity of the caracals has been documented on numerous occasions. Caracals normally begin foraging (hunting for prey) at dusk and are normally active until dawn.

It is believed that in remote areas where there is less human disturbance, they can exhibit more activity during the day. Caracals spend virtually all of their time on the ground, but they are also adept at climbing trees and masses of broken rock when needed.

Habitat

These animals occupy various habitats. Caracals are typically found in forests and scrublands, plains and rocky hills are also common habitats.

They prefer edge habitats, especially transitions between forests and grasslands. They are found at an altitude of over 3.000 meters in the mountains of Ethiopia. An arid climate with minimal foliar coverage is preferred. Compared to servals, caracals can tolerate much drier conditions.

However, they rarely inhabit deserts or tropical environments. In Asia, snails are sometimes found in forests, which is rare in African populations.

Distribution

This feline is distributed throughout much of Africa, Central Asia, and Southwest Asia. Populations in North Africa are disappearing, but caracals remain abundant in other African regions. Its distribution limits are the Sahara desert and the equatorial forest belt of West and Central Africa.

In South Africa and Namibia the population is so numerous that it is exterminated like a nuisance animal. Asian populations are less dense than those in Africa and Asian populations are of more concern. The historical range reflects that of cheetahs, and both coincide with the distribution of several small desert gazelles. There is little to no distributional overlap with its allies, the African golden cats. However, his other allies, the Servants, share a notable portion of their rank with the Caracals. The wild cats (felis sylvestris), specifically the subspecies Bos lybica (african wildcats) Y Bos deck (asian wildcats), share much of their range with the Caracals.

Distribution range

These animals actively maintain a fairly large range for their relatively small size. Climate, region, and sex influence the size of an individual's home range. A male's household range is typically twice that of a female.

The size of the home distribution area also depends on the availability of water. In regions with arid climates, a much larger range is maintained. In some parts of Africa, a male's territory ranges from 31 to 65 km2. Females from the same region will maintain a range of 4 to 31 km2. In some parts of Asia, males typically maintain a range from 200 km2 to more than 300 km2.

There is a sex difference in the exclusivity of the defended territories. The territory of a male may overlap with the ranges of other males, while a female defends her entire territory for individual use.

Food

Like all other species in the Felidae family, they are strict carnivores. The majority of the caracal's diet consists of blue tit, hares, rodents, antelope, small monkeys, and birds. Pigeons and partridge, in particular, are important in the season. Mountain reeds, Dorcas gazelles, Kori bustards, mountain gazelles, gerenuks are specific examples of what caracals can hunt.

Occasionally they may consume some type of reptile, although this is not a common component of the diet. The basic components of the diet vary with geography. For example, an individual in Africa could consume larger animals such as ungulates, while an Asian cat could consume only small vertebrates, such as rodents. Sometimes cattle are also hunted.

Although they are known for their spectacular jumps, mammals make up more than half of their diet at all ranges. Unique among cats of its size, caracals can knock down prey two to three times its mass.

It attacks small prey with a bite to the nape, while large prey, such as gazelles, is bitten with a suffocating bite to the throat. Prey is usually stalked within a few long limits, and then captured when the snail leaps up using its disproportionately long, muscular hind legs. Perhaps as a result of their opportunistic appetite, caracals can kill excessively.

Unlike leopards, caracals rarely raise their prey against trees. In undisturbed environments, they will scrape the dirt over a dead animal and continually return to feed until it is gone.

Predators

Camouflage is a primary defense against predators. When threatened in their preferred open habitats, caracals keep crouching and their smooth brown coats act as instant camouflage. Agile climbing skills also help caracals escape larger predators.

Its known predators are:

  • Leones (Panthera leo).
  • Leopards (Panthera pardus).
  • Hienas (Hyena).
  • Human being.

Reproduction

Before mating begins, chemical signals in the female's urine attract and notify the male of her willingness to mate. A "cough-like" mating call has also been reported as a method of attraction.

Several different forms of mating systems have been observed for caracals. When a female is being courted by multiple males, the group may struggle to mate with her or may choose its mates, preferring older and larger males to younger and smaller males.

Mating can occur with multiple individuals over the course of about a week. When a female chooses a mate, the pair can stay together for up to four days, during which copulation occurs several times. Female caracals assume a position lordotic (The female lies down and slightly raises her hind legs) and copulation lasts less than five minutes on average. Females almost always copulate with more than one male. Infanticide by males has been observed. This may be to induce ovulation in a female who undergoes lactational amenorrhea.

Although both sexes are sexually mature between 7 and 10 months, the first successful intercourse will occur around 14 and 15 months of age. Some biologists believe that sexual maturity is indicated by a body mass of 7 to 9 kg.

Females exhibit oestrous behaviors for 3-6 days, but the cycle actually lasts twice as long. A female can go into heat at any time of the year. One hypothesis to explain the reproductive habits of C. caracal is the "use" of an opportunistic strategy. This strategy is controlled by the nutritional status of the female. When a female is experiencing pinnacle nutrition (which will vary by rank), she will go into heat. This explains the high peak of deliveries between October and February in some regions.

A female cannot have more than one litter per year due to parental involvement and lack of postpartum heat. Gestation lasts between 68 and 81 days, and the female will give birth to 1 to 6 young. In the wild, generally no more than 3 young are born, while in captivity the number is more likely to be higher, rarely up to 6.

Parental education plays an important role in increased reproductive behavior. The time a mother spends with her young (and the combined lack of postpartum heat) restricts females to one litter per year. Once the young are conceived, the boys play no role in their direct or indirect care. Females invest a lot of time and energy in their young.

An abandoned tree cavity, cave, or burrow is often chosen for delivery and the first four weeks of postnatal development. After the first month, the mother can move her young continuously. Around this time, kittens begin to play and eat meat. Lactation continues until kittens are around 15 weeks old, but true independence does not occur for 5 to 6 months.

No reliable longevity data has been reported for wild caracal individuals. As with other felines, captive individuals can live significantly longer than their wild relatives if they are cared for well. The captive C. caracal can live up to 20 years. The maximum longevity in captivity reported was 20.3 years for a wild-born female reared in captivity.

The caracal is a majestic feline.

State of conservation

The main concern for caracals is habitat loss in North, Central and West Africa and Asia. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) lists Asian populations as Appendix I and all others as Appendix II. This means that Asian populations cannot be traded for any commercial reason, but trade involving scientific research is allowed. Appendix II establishes that the trade in these animals will be controlled through the authorization of permits in cases that do not harm the species.

Role in the ecosystem

Although the caracal is both predator and prey, their known predators (eg, lions and hyenas) do not regularly hunt them. The greatest impact on ecosystems is the control of prey populations.

Opportunistic consumers consume what is most available and what requires the least amount of energy to capture and kill. This hunting method plays an important role in preventing underpopulation or overpopulation of prey species. In some regions, they are one of the few species capable of killing certain types of prey.

Relationship with humans

Historically the caracals were important in many cultures around the world. In Egypt, paintings of caracals and bronze sculptures have been found, as well as embalmed corpses.

This means that they were of great importance to the Egyptians. In China, the emperors gave caracals as gifts. In India, rulers used the caracals to hunt small game animals and their skins were also used in the manufacture of fur coats.

This also shows that the domestication of caracals is not something new, but started centuries ago.

Economic importance for humans: Positive

In India and Persia, they were once trained to catch game birds and deer. In doing so, the caracals provided both food and entertainment. Bushmeat and hides in West and Central Africa provide minor food and benefits to the local population. Fortunately for the caracal, their smooth skin is in very little demand.

Economic importance for humans: Negative

The predation of small livestock has resulted in the extermination of thousands of caracals annually. This is especially the case in South Africa and Namibia, where predator control programs have been implemented. Even with several programs in place, they quickly recolonize farmland.

Popular culture

The name Caracal derives from a Turkish word «karakulak"Which means" black ear. " The Caracal was trained to hunt birds in Iran and India. They were placed in arenas containing a flock of pigeons, and bets were made on the number of pigeons the cat was going to knock down. This is how the Turkish expression «put a cat among the pigeons«. The Caracal is capable of leaping into the air and knocking down 10 to 12 birds in one sitting, which is incredible.

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