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Caracal Caracal caracal

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The caracal, also known as the desert lynx, is one of the most secretive and mysterious representatives of the Felidae family. It was given its name due to the black back of its ears topped with black tufts (its name derives from Turkish “black year”). The caracal resembles the lynx but it is smaller and slender than the lynx, and does not have a distinguished pattern of the coat. The caracals reach a body length of 65 to 90 cm and weigh from 11 to 19 kg, with males being much larger than females. The unique features of the caracal are its extremely large ears topped with very long (up to 5 cm in length) black tufts, and strong back legs allowing this animal to leap nearly 5 meters into the air from a standing start. Besides, this cat has numerous stiff hairs between the pads which help it to move through soft hot sand. The caracal has short thick fur with the coloration similar to that of the puma, and zoologists believe that these two species share a number of morphological characteristics.

Despite its relatively small size, the caracal is a powerful and dangerous carnivore, and experienced and clever hunter that can hunt a prey twice as large as itself, and then, like a leopard, take it into the tree and hide it from potential competitors. Although caracals have long legs, they are not capable of longer runs therefore they hunt by stalking their prey and then chasing it in a short sprint. Possessing exceptional agility and very sharp retractable claws, this carnivore can stalk its prey as close as possible, then pounce with short fast runs at the core of the flock and knock down several birds with its front paws using either or both of them and changing direction of the leaps while in the air. The caracal can take various prey including rodents (gerbils, jerboas, gophers), hares, hyraxes, small antelopes, as well as small monkeys and, occasionally, reptiles. Sometimes caracals hunt on hedgehogs, porcupines, insects, young ostriches, and such small carnivorous mammals, as fox or mangos. Caracals have well-developed senses of hearing and nocturnal sight: their ears are controlled by 20 different muscles, and numerous inner hairs help this animal to detect exact position of its prey. The caracal can survive without drinking for a long period satisfying its water demand with the body fluids of prey. In Asia, caracals were once trained to hunt on pheasants, peacocks, hares, and small antelopes. In India, they were called “poor man’s cheetah” because in contrast to cheetahs, holding caracals could be afforded also by poorer people.

Mating occurs year round, and a female may mate with up to three males. Gestation lasts about 80 days, and litter size ranges from one to six (3 on average) spotted blind and deaf kittens. They are born in a den located under tree roots, in a cave or in abandoned burrow. The kittens open their eyes at one week of age and are able to walk after another two to four days. The kittens grow quite slow. During the first month the female continuously moves her cubs to different places to hide them from predators. Young caracals disperse at the age of one year; females usually establish their territories close to their mother’s home range, while dispersing males can go away as far as 100 km.

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