Small Cat: The curious case of the caracal, the world’s ‘quickest’ cat

 

carcal-1On an average, I go for a hundred trips to Ranthambhore National Park each year, hence based on this figure in the past 11 years, I must have done about eleven hundred such trips. I have seen a caracal thrice in these eleven years and for me these three caracal sightings were the most fortunate incidents of my life. Ranthambhore National Park is the best place for sighting the caracal though during both the incidents the other people in my vehicle were least interested in it, since their trip would be complete only if they had seen the big cat — the tiger. 

However, those familiar with the caracal know that seeing this mysterious cat is a reverie for researchers and wildlife enthusiasts and an ultimate fantasy of photographers. The caracal is one of the 15 wild cats found in India, while 37 cats are found in the world. It is not that the caracal is living in some geographically difficult areas; yet it has been very elusive due to its secretive behaviour.

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If we consider the cheetah to be the quickest cat, the caracal is the fastest. It’s quickness can be seen when it is hunting. It often jumps like a coiled spring and grabs a bird five to six feet from the ground.

In the old days, people trained cheetahs and caracals to hunt and the two were kept together. The cheetah was used for hunting of antelopes like black bucks while the caracals was used for hare and birds.

The areas where this species is found are dry deciduous, not woodlands but scrublands where illegal grazing, alteration of habitat for agriculture, developmental work and mining have caused habitat loss for the species. The caracal is found in two continents — Asia and Africa. In India, it is found in the North-Western part — there are four main areas — Ranthambhore, Sariska, Aravalli ranges and Kutch.

Caracal is a Turkish word “karakulak” which means “black ear”.

caracal-3The Indian Lynx, has no Hindi or Urdu name but it is known as ‘Siagos’ in Persian. However, it has a popular name in Rajasthani ‘Mor mar Bhageri’. The kutchi dialect of Gujarati has a name for it ‘Harnotro’ meaning haran (Chinkara) like colour.

The caracal is normally dark red, grey or golden sand in colour and as the caracal’s name suggests, the caracal’s ears are black, with tufts. Young caracals bear reddish spots on the underbelly that disappear when they grow up. Caracal possesses a very unique distinguishing physical feature. Its ears are elongated, narrow and tipped with long black tufts of black hair. These notorious long “ear tufts” can be as long as 3 inches and actually serve an important purpose which helps insure the caracal’s survival.

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In most cases, everything in nature has a purpose. In this case, not only do the ear tufts help direct sound waves into the animal’s ears, but they also help reduce noise created when the animals head disturbs low lying branches. This allows the caracal to get very close to its prey when hunting.

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The actual ecology and threats, the behaviour and habits of this Indian sub species are still unknown. All information we have comes from the African subspecies, which is two to three times bigger in size. It’s time we get to know the caracal better, before we lose the opportunity forever.

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