Caracals live in woodlands and savannas in Africa, Central and Southwest Asia and the Arabian Peninsula. They can live in several kinds of habitat, but they especially like dry woodlands and savanna with some cover. The name caracal comes from the Turkish word "karakulak," which means "black ear."
The life of a caracal
The caracal is the heaviest and fastest of the small cats in Africa. Quick, strong and agile, it can take down prey up to 3 times its size. Its long back legs allow it to leap 10 feet in the air.
The long, black-tufted ears of a caracal are each controlled by about 20 muscles. Its ears help the cat find a hidden prey animal, and its keen eyesight helps it to focus on its tar¬get. Caracals keep their claws sharp to help them capture their prey. They are adapted for life in arid environments and need very little water, getting most of the moisture they need from food.
Caracals hunt at night, sprinting after mongooses, rodents, hyraxes, dik-diks and monkeys, and killing them with a bite to the nape of the neck. They occasionally kill mammals as large as an impala or a small antelope using a suffocating throat bite.
Caracals are usually solitary, and both sexes maintain territories. They purr when they are contented and mew, growl, cough and hiss to express other moods. They have scent glands between their toes and on their faces, and use scent to communicate their territory. When they sharpen their claws on a tree, they are also marking their territory.
Most caracals come together only to mate, and the male does not stay to help raise the young. After a gestation of 2 ½ to 3 months, the mother gives birth to a litter of 2 to 6 kittens. The kittens are born tiny and helpless, with their eyes sealed shut. Their eyes open in about 10 days, and they start eating meat at 1 to 2 months old. By then, they are following their mother to learn hunting skills.
Caracals live for an average of 12 years in the wild. In captivity, their median life expectancy is about 13 years.
The caracal is listed as of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, but its situation varies according to location. Caracals are widespread in southern and eastern Africa, but habitat loss and human conflict have threatened them as people move further into their territory in North Africa and Asia. Because caracals sometimes hunt and kill small domestic livestock, they are often hunted as pests.
How you can help caracals
Help expand the Oregon Zoo's local and global conservation efforts by becoming a Wildlife Partner. Your donation will help build on the successes of the Future for Wildlife program, which has provided funding for conservation projects around the world since 1998.
Caracals at the Oregon Zoo
The zoo's caracals live in the Predators of the Serengeti exhibit.