Caracal Key Facts

* Largest of the small cats  *  Black tufted ears  *  Leaps to catch birds *

Caracal Information

SCIENTIFIC NAME Caracal caracal 

COMMON NAMES African Caracal, African Lynx, Asian Caracal, Persian Lynx, Caracal Lynx, Desert Lynx 

NAME ORIGIN The name Caracal comes from Turkish word "karakulak" meaning 'black eared'. The Swahili name for Caracal is "Simbamangu" which means 'secretive lion' or 'secretive cat' as they are rarely seen. 

SIZE Caracal are the largest of the small African cats, weighing between 11 and 20 kgs, and are classed as 'medium-sized' cats.
IDENTIFICATION The Caracal has distinctive dark tufts on its large, pointed ears. It is one of the few cat species that don't have any spots or stripes on its coat. 

UNIQUE BEHAVIOUR Caracals are capable of tremendous aerial acrobatic jumps. They can leap into the air and knock down 10-12 birds at one time (see video). 

HISTORY Caracals were once tamed and trained for bird hunting in Iran and India. They were put into arenas containing a flock of pigeons, and wagers were made as to how many birds the cat would take down. This is the origin of the expression "to put a cat amongst the pigeons".

Video: A Caracal Slaps Down a Bird in Flight by Smithsonian Channel

Caracal Distribution

Caracal occur throughout Africa and South East Asia but are absent from the extreme desert regions and rainforests. There are nine distinct subspecies of Caracal, seven in Africa and two in Asia. 

AFRICA: The Caracal is common in southern Africa but absent from the eastern and western coastal strips. Caracal occur widely in the rest of Africa, except for the equatorial forest and deep interior of the Sahara desert. The highest populations occur in South Africa (C.c. caracal) and in Namibia (C.c.damaransis) with viable populations throughout the rest of its African range. 

ASIA: The Caracal's range extends from Africa into the Middle East and southern Asia, as far east as India. The Turkmenian caracal (C.c.michaelis) and South West Asian caracal (C.c.schmitzi), are found in the extreme east of the range, are less abundant.
Map reproduced with permission from the book Cats of Africa
Click through on the map for the updated Caracal distribution.

Caracal Description

SIZE The Caracal is the largest of Africa's smaller cats, with males about 25% larger than the females. 

BODY The Caracal is robustly built and is the most powerful of the small cats. Its hindquarters are slightly higher than its shoulders as the hind legs are longer than the front legs. The tail is short relative to its body length. 

COAT The coat is thick but short and soft. The colour varies from yellowish-brown, pale reddish to a rich brick-red, grey or sand-coloured. The underparts are off-white with faint spotting or blotching. Melanistic (black) Caracals also occur.

IMAGE Caracal Physical Characteristics - Photo by Chris and Tilde Stuart
HEAD The Caracal's face has prominent black and white markings around the eyes and mouth, with white under the chin. The long, pointed ears have tufts of long black hair at the tip. The backs of the ears are black, liberally sprinkled with white hairs. 

AGE In the wild - up to 12 years In captivity - up to 19 years

IMAGE Caracal Facial Features - Photo by Mike Meyer

More Caracal Information and Facts

  1. ARKive Videos and Photos taken in the wild
    ARKive - Wildlife imagery Caracal
  2. International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC)
    International Society for Endangered Cats - Caracal Fact Sheet
  3. IUCN Cat Specialist Group
    IUCN Cat Specialist Group - Caracal
ARKive video - Caracal stalking guineafowl

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