Caracal, Desert Lynx

(Caracal caracal)


Caracal, Desert Lynx IUCN LEAST CONCERN (LC)


Facts about this animal

The Caracal is a medium-sized cat with long legs and a short tail (23-32 cm). The body profile is quadratic. The head-body length is 62-82 cm, the height at the shoulder about 45 cm. The weight is 8-14 kg with large males being up to 18 kg. Females are lighter than the males.


There are characteristic dark spots on both sides of the muzzle and two short vertical bars above the eyes. The ears are set fairly close together. They are large and pointed with long erect tufts of hair (about 50 mm) on the tips. The backsides are entirely black or with frosting of white hairs.


The coat is dense; short and close at the back, longer, looser and woollier on the belly. It is uniformly brick red or reddish sandy coloured, without traces of patter, except some faint spots on the underside of the chest, and buffy stripes on the inner side of the fore limbs. The under parts are creamy buff.


Caracals are mainly nocturnal and solitary. They hunt for small to medium sized prey species like dassies, springhares, birds, mongoose, mountain reedbuck, jackal and rodents, and they may cause damage to small livestock farmers by killing sheep and goat lambs. They kill with a bite to the neck.


After a gestation period of approximately 69–78 days the female gives birth to a litter of 2-6, most frequently 3, kittens, which are are weaned at about 10 weeks.

Did you know?
That a caracals' ears are each controlled by about 20 muscles to help these hunters better determine where prey is hiding and that the tufts of fur offer an added advantage in pinpointing prey?


Name (Scientific) Caracal caracal
Name (English) Caracal, Desert Lynx
Name (French) Caracal, Lynx du d├ęsert
Name (German) Karakal
Name (Spanish) Caracal
Local names Afrikaans: Rooikat
Damara: !Hab
chiShona: Hwang, twana
ciVenda: Thwani
Hindi: Siyeh gush
kiSwahili: Simba mangu
isiNdebele: Indabutshe, intwane
isiXhosa: Ingqawa, ngada
isiZulu: Indabushe
seTswana: Thwane
siLozi: Twani
xiTsonga: Nandani
Yei: shilizabul Nama
CITES Status Appendix I (Asia), Appendix II (Africa)
CMS Status Not listed



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Nick & Melissa Baker



Range Subsaharan Africa, North Africa, Central Asia, South-west Asia
Habitat Dry areas, but also woodlands, savanna, hilly areas, and scrubland, absent only from the tropical rainforests
Wild population Unknown (Red List IUCN 2011), but the Caracal is widely distributed and relatively common, except for some Asian subspecies.
Zoo population 314 registered by the International studbook (2004), 140 reported to ISIS (2005)

In the Zoo

Caracal, Desert Lynx


How this animal should be transported

Transport crates should be sufficiently large to meet legal requirements and sufficiently strong to prevent escape or damage to the crate and animal. Basic design should allow free flow of air through multiple sides of the container. Preferably, a double door design at least on one end of the crate should be used. The "inner" door should have bars or wire mesh to contain the animal, and the "outer" door should consist of a thin panel of expanded metal or plywood that provides safety for the handlers and isolation for the animal. The doors should travel vertically to facilitate animal transfer and contain a secure locking system. The crate should drain well, and absorbent bedding should be used to prevent the animal from being exposed to or lying in urine or excreta.


The shipment should be organised in a way to minimise stress. The animal should have access to its transport crate for 2 weeks before shipment, preferably being fed within it. If an extended trip is anticipated, water and food as may be required should be provided while the animal is in transit.


For air transport, Container Note 82 of the IATA Live Animals Regulations should be followed.


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Why do zoos keep this animal

The caracal is threatened in parts of its range but not in others. The Asian population is listed in CITES Appendix I, i.e. importing animals from Asia is difficult or impossible. With a view of establishing a self-sustained zoo population an International Studbook was established in 1987 under the WAZA umbrella, and American zoos maintain now a regional breeding programme. The caracal is an attractive cat and makes a good ambassador species for its desert and semi-desert habitats.