10 Interesting Facts About Caracals: The Tuft on Their Ears Becomes Droopier as They Age

Hangai Lilla

2024. May 24 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

Caracals were named in 1761 by the French naturalist George Buffon, who derived the word from the animal's Turkish name, “Karrah-kulak,” meaning black ears. This medium-sized wildcat, weighing 8-19 kilograms, is native to Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and the dry regions of Pakistan and northwest India. In the Tigrinya language, the indigenous people call them "bearded lions" (ch’ok anbessa).


nThe caracal is fearless and are known to take down prey larger than its size. They have been observed driving away larger predators if they covet the caracal’s kill. This extraordinary feline is fascinating not only for its unique and elegant appearance.

Indigenous Bushman father and son in the background with a caracal in the Namib Desert.

1.) One is more mysterious than the other

The caracal’s closest relative is the African golden cat. Genetic studies suggest that the two species diverged between 2.93 and 1.19 million years ago. Little is known about the African golden cat, with the first wild photo taken in 2002. We have somewhat more information about the caracal, but it is also highly elusive and reserved, making it challenging for scientists.

The serval is the closest relative on the family tree to these two species and is unfortunately often kept as a pet. It has also been used to breed the Savannah cat.

2.) Instead of wrinkles, here is how you can see the ageing process

Caracals are easily recognizable from a distance by their distinctive black facial markings and the 4-5 cm long black tuft on their ears. This tuft can become droopier as the animal ages. Caracals are often confused with lynxes due to their tufted ears. However, they can be distinguished as lynxes are spotted while caracals are solid-colored.

These ear tufts and facial markings also serve as visual communication tools. As they turn their heads or move their ears using their 20 muscles (humans only have six ear muscles), the tufts sway and can convey messages. Some researchers believe they function similarly to whiskers. Naturally, like any cat, caracals growl, hiss, purr, and meow.

3.) Their activity is influenced by temperature

Most predators’ activity depends on when their prey is active, which can be at dawn, dusk, night, or day. Caracals are primarily nocturnal but have been observed during the day. Interestingly, their activity is influenced by temperature; they tend to retreat if the temperature drops below 20°C.

4.) Efficient and ruthless hunters

With their long and strong hind legs, caracals can jump up to 3 meters high and even twist in mid-air to change direction if needed. They stalk their prey within 5 meters before pouncing. They primarily eat small mammals and birds but occasionally consume grasses and grapes to rid their stomachs of parasites. It is know that they can successfully take down prey up to three times their size due to their robust build.

With a guinea fowl prey

5.) Year-round mating readiness

Caracals are ready to mate year-round, becoming sexually mature around one year old. Estrus lasts 1-3 days and repeats approximately every two weeks until the female becomes pregnant. The gestation period is 2-3 months, and litters can have 1-6 kittens.

6.) A small accident in the 90s

In 1998, a caracal at the Moscow Zoo spontaneously mated with a house cat that snuck into its enclosure. The mating resulted in a viable offspring with tufted ears. Unfortunately, little information is available about this kitten, but it is known that it had no offspring.

7.) Embalmed caracals have been found in Egypt

Caracals likely held significant roles in Egyptian culture, as they appear in numerous drawings and paintings. Specimens have been found in bronze statues and mummified forms. The findings suggest that they were tamed and bred. Like cheetahs, caracals were under the care of the pharaoh’s animal keeper, who ensured their well-being. The strongest and most skilled cats were used in hunting.

8.) They were used for hunting in India

Caracals were highly valued in India for their ability to catch birds in flight. Until the 20th century, rulers used them for hunting small game, while cheetahs were used for larger prey. For entertainment, many pigeons were released in an arena, and caracals were let loose among them, with bets placed on which caracal would kill the most birds.

A young caracal prowls in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania

9.) Their urine is very concentrated when water is scarce

Caracals typically live in dry areas with limited water sources. They have adapted to these harsh conditions by obtaining most of their water needs from their prey. They also produce highly concentrated urine droplets to help maintain their hydration.

10.) There’s a secret in their pads

Caracals have long, stiff hairs between their paw pads, allowing them to move silently and making it easier to walk on soft sand.

caracal interesting facts about cats of interest wildcat

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