Other Names
desert lynx (English)
caracal (French)
caracal, Wüstenluchs (German)
caracal, lince africano (Spanish)
ajal, anaq al ardh, washag (Arabic)
warsal, bousboela, mousch, nouadhrar, aousak (Berber: Algeria)
psk qarh qol (Dari: Afghanistan)
harnotro [killer of blackbuck] (Kutchi dialect of Gujarati: India)
caracal (Farsi)
karakal (Russian)
itfah (Saudi Arabia)
  • Description and Behavior

  • Biology

  • Habitat and Distribution

  • Population Status

  • Protection Status

  • Principal Threats

  • References

  • orei, ngam ouidenanga (Tamacheq, Toubou [Touareg]: central Sahara)
    karakulak, step vasagi (Turkish)
    karakulak (Uzbek)

    Description and Behavior
    Like cheetahs, caracals were trained to hunt for the nobility in India (Sterndale 1884, Sharma and Sankhala 1984). In general, caracals from this region are somewhat smaller than those of Sub-Saharan Africa, with paler fur in the arid regions (Harrison and Bates 1991, K. de Smet in litt. 1993). Heptner and Sludskii (1972) remark that the pelage of desert caracals bears a surprising resemblance in color to that of the goitred gazelle. They also note that Turkmen caracals have tufts of stiff hairs on the paws like the sand cat. Weisbein (in Mendelssohn 1989) also reports the presence of a dark form in 5-10% of the caracal population in central Israel, with adults grey and young kittens almost black. The average weight of male carcals in Israel is 9.8+1.8 kg (n=6); females weigh 6.2+0.7 kg (n=5) and are markedly smaller than males (Weisbein 1989).

    Diet is similar to that reported from sub-Saharan Africa, consisting mainly of small mammals and birds (Ognev 1935, Roberts 1977, Sharma and Sankhala 1984). Through scat analysis, prey remains, stomach contents and direct observation, Weisbein (1989) determined that the diet of caracals in an irrigated agricultural area of Israel consisted of 62% mammals, 24% birds, 6.1% reptiles, and 1.4% insects. In the deserts of Turkmenistan, tolai hares were the most important prey species (Sapozhenkov 1962, Ishadov 1983).

    Caracals occasionally tackle larger prey, including adult goitred gazelle (Heptner and Sludskii 1972). Harrison and Bates (1991) note a report from southern Arabia of a caracal killed by a wounded oryx it had attacked. K. de Smet (in litt. 1993) found the tracks of a caracal pursuing a dorcas gazelle in Algeria, and caracals to the north-west of Lake Chad are reputed to hunt these gazelles, hence the local Toubou name “gazelle cat” (Dragesco-Joffé 1993). Roberts (1977) notes a record of a caracal stalking a group of feeding urial in daylight in Pakistan. Caracals have also been observed to feed on carrion: Mendelssohn (in litt. 1993) describes garbage dumps at poultry farms as rich food sources, and once saw a caracal leap onto a cart of dead turkeys and select one. A. Livne (pers. comm. cited in Skinner 1979) observed a caracal chase two sub-adult striped hyaenas from a donkey carcass.

    Weisbein’s (1989) radiotelemetry study in Israel found that caracals rest during the day in dense vegetation or a rock crevice, and were generally active from dusk to dawn and in early morning. Elsewhere, burrows are also used for shelter (Heptner and Sludskii 1972, Roberts 1977). Males travelled an average of 10.4+5.2 km (n=40) per 24-hour period, while females travelled 6.6+4.1 km (n=37) (Weisbein 1989). Nocturnal travels up to 20 km have been documented by following tracks in the Karakum desert of Turkmenistan (Sapozhenkov 1960).

    Reproductive season (W): Year-round (Roberts 1977, Sharma and Sankhala 1984, Weisbein 1989); in the Sahara, breeding is reported to occur primarily in mid-winter (Jan) (Dragesco-Joffé 1993); in Turkmenistan, kittens have been found in Apr-May (Heptner and Sludskii 1972)

    Estrus (W): 5-6 days (n=3). Females copulate with several males in a “pecking order” which is related to the age and size of the male. One female was found to have mated with three different males during every estrus period, each time the same individuals in the same sequence (Weisbein 1989)

    Age at independence (W): 9-10 months (n=1; Weisbein 1989)

    Habitat and Distribution
    The caracal is widely distributed through the region, absent only from true desert (Figure 6). In North Africa, it is common in the humid forest zone of the northern coastal regions, and is also found in the Saharan mountain ranges (K. de Smet in litt. 1993) and semi-arid woodlands (Dragesco-Joffé (1993). In microhabitat preference, it is typically associated with either well-vegetated or rocky areas (Heptner and Sludskii 1972, Gasperetti et al. 1986, Weisbein 1989, A. Johnsingh in litt. 1991, Dragesco-Joffé 1993), which provide cover for hunting as well as shelter. It is often found near water points (Heptner and Sludskii 1972; S. Biquand, H. Mendelssohn in litt. 1993), but is apparently capable of satisfying its moisture requirements from its prey (Dragesco-Joffé 1993, J. Gasperetti in litt. 1993).

    Population Status
    Global: Category 5(B)
    Regional: Category 5a(A)
    IUCN: Turkmenian caracal Rare

    The regional Red Data Books of the former USSR describe the caracal as rare, with the largest population found in Turkmenistan (estimated at 250-300 for the country: Belousova 1993). In Kazakhstan, the northernmost limit of its range, harsh winters are the limiting factor (Neronov and Bobrov 1991). Small populations occur in Uzbekistan along the Amu-Darya river (Heptner and Sludskii 1972). The caracal is described as rare in India, the eastern limit of its range (Pocock 1939a, Sharma and Sankhala 1984, R.S. Bhadauria in litt. 1991). Overall, and especially compared to the larger cats, the caracal is relatively secure, still widespread and occasionally common.

    The only study of a caracal population in the region was carried out in an agricultural area in Israel’s Negev Desert (Weisbein 1989). Despite a rich prey base supported by irrigation, home ranges were substantially larger than found in South Africa (where the only other radiotelemetry studies have been carried out). Male home ranges averaged 221+132 km2 (n=5), and those of females 57+55 km2 (n=4). Home range size was positively correlated with body weight, and negatively correlated with prey availability. Male home ranges overlapped substantially (50%), and typically included those of several females. Two dispersals were observed: a male migrated 60-90 km south before establishing a home range, whereas a female remained in the vicinity of her natal range, with her range partly overlapping that of her mother. Twenty caracals, several of them transients, were found to utilize an area of 100 km2 (with some ranging outside this area), making for a relatively high local density despite the large home ranges.

    Protection Status
    Populations of Asian range states: CITES Appendix I
    African range states: CITES Appendix II

    National Legislation:
    Lacking information

    Hunting prohibited:
    Algeria, India, Iran, Israel, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan

    No legal protection:
    Egypt, Lebanon, Oman, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates

    No information:

    Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Qatar, Syria, Western Sahara (Nichols et al. 1990, IUCN Environmental Law Centre 1986, Belousova 1993; R. Daly, I. Nader, M. Reza Khan, A. Serhal, S. Umar in litt. 1993)

    Principal Threats
    Caracals prey mainly on small mammals, which are generally not adversely affected by human settlement (Le Berre 1991). However, caracals are capable of taking small domestic livestock, and surplus killing can result when the animals are attacked in enclosed spaces (Weisbein and Mendelssohn 1990). Such incidents could lead to vigorous persecution by pastoralists. Several authors have reported caracals to be susceptible to trapping with fresh bait (Roberts 1977, Gasperetti et al. 1986). However, Saharan nomadic pastoralists interviewed by Dragesco-Joffé (1993) stated that problem caracals were difficult to eliminate because they did not take bait, and must be chased and treed by hounds. Weisbein (1989) suggests that caracals are more disposed towards taking easily acquired prey (e.g. bait, carrion and domestic animals) in the colder months of winter as an energy saving strategy. His work indicates that, in the absence of heavy persecution, caracals can adapt well to living in settled areas in the region.

    © 1996 IUCN - The World Conservation Union