The caracal, also called Persian lynx or African lynx (Caracal caracal, sometimes Felis caracal), is a fiercely territorial medium-sized cat. Caracals are labeled as small cats. They are amongst the heaviest of all small cats, as well as the fastest. Males typically weigh about 28 to 40 lbs (13-18 kg), while females are smaller. The caracal resembles a lynx and for a long time it was considered a close relative of the lynxes. Recent DNA research, however, has shown that the caracal is not a close relative of lynxes at all, but is instead related to the Serval. The caracal is about 2 ft (65 cm) in length, plus a one ft (30 cm) tail. It has longer legs and a slimmer appearance than a lynx. The color of the fur is variable. It may be wine-red, grey or sand-colored. Young caracals bear reddish spots on the underside. Adults do not have markings except for black spots above the eyes. The most conspicuous feature of the caracal is its long, tufted black ears. This explains the origin of its name Turkish for “black ear”. Twenty different muscles to help them find their prey control their ears. The tufts of fur help pinpoint their prey.

Caracals are distributed over Africa and West Asia. Their habitat is dry steppes and semi-deserts, but also include woodlands, savanna, and scrub forest. They are solitary, or paired, territorial cats. A caracal may survive without drinking for a long period. The water demand is satisfied with the body fluids of the prey. It hunts at night (but in colder seasons also in the daytime) for rodents and hares. On rare occasions it may even attack a gazelle, a small antelope or a young ostrich. They are picky eaters, and discard the internal organs of the mammals they catch. They are most well known for their skill with hunting birds. A caracal is able to snatch a bird in flight, sometimes more than one at a time. Caracals can jump and climb exceptionally well, which enables them to catch hyraxes better than probably any other carnivore. Their life expectancy in the wild is 12 years, or 17 years in captivity. Since they are also surprisingly easy to tame, they have been used as hunting cats in Iran and India.

Because they are so easily tamed, caracals are sometimes kept as pets (especially in the United States). They are said to adapt easily to living with humans.

Caracals are almost impossible to see in the wild. This is not because there are very few of them, but because they hide extremely well.


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