Caracals, which are very similar to the lynx cats found in the Northern Hemisphere, live secretive lives, mostly emerging in the early dusk to hunt. They are fearless and athletic, their well-developed hindquarters aiding their jumping and climbing abilities. These cats think nothing of bringing down prey far larger than themselves.
The caracal, the closest African equivalent to a lynx, is the largest of the ‘small cats’ found in South Africa.
With its black, tasselled ears, short tail, red fur and big feet, it is a formidable and athletic hunter.
It is also quite beautiful, with dark marks around its eyes and white highlights. The tufted ears are diagnostic – no other cat in Africa has them.
Unfortunately, livestock farmers generally overlook its good looks because the caracal (also called the rooikat, or 'red cat') kills their goats and sheep without a qualm. Yet experts have noted that it prefers not to eat too much fatty mutton or lamb if there is other, leaner fare available.
All agree, though, that it’s a cat that punches way above its weight. Its high hindquarters give it a huge advantage when jumping and climbing, and it is the scourge of dassie (rock rabbit) populations.
A caracal also won’t hesitate to down a far larger adult impala, a kudu calf or even an ostrich. Mostly, though, it will go for springbok, steenbok, monkeys, springhares, rodents and mongooses.
It has even been known to knock a martial eagle from its perch, kill it and eat it. What other cat would dare?
It will also bat birds from the air with lightning fast blows.
This mostly nocturnal prowler is sometimes seen in the early morning or late afternoon.
It is 1 of the most adaptable animals and occurs over most of the country. The only area it avoids is the Richtersveld in the north-western corner of South Africa.
A good potential place to see it is the Mountain Zebra National Park, although you could be lucky enough to see 1 in most national parks and nature reserves, or while on a farm stay.
But if your luck fails and you’re determined to see this beautiful feline, visit the Cat Conservation Trust 20 minutes out of the Karoo town of Cradock (not far from the Mountain Zebra National Park).