Sunday, December 10, 2023


Caracal UPSC

The caracal (Caracal caracal) is a medium-sized wild cat native to Africa, the Middle East, Central and South Asia. It is known for its distinctive appearance, characterized by its slender body, long legs, and tufted ears

The iconic ears of the caracal play a significant role in giving the animal its name. The word "caracal" is derived from the Turkish term "karakulak," where "kara" means black, and "kulak" means ear. Therefore, "karakulak" translates to "black ears" in Turkish.

The caracal is listed as a "Least Concern" species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). However, local populations may face threats from habitat loss, hunting, and conflict with humans.

The caracal has cultural significance in some regions, and it has been featured in mythology and folklore. In ancient Egypt, caracals were sometimes tamed and kept as hunting companions.

Table of Contents

  • Caracal Characteristics
    • Classification
    • Scientific Name
    • Sub-species
    • Habitat
    • Physical Appearance
    • Diet
    • Behavior
    • Reproduction
    • Lifespan
    • Speed
  • Caracal in India
    • Asiatic Caracal
  • Caracal Population in India
  • Caracal Protection Status
  • Caracal Conservation
  • Threats
  • Caracal UPSC Question

Caracal Characteristics

Here's a general overview of the characteristics of the caracal:

1. Classification:

The caracal (Caracal caracal) belongs to the following taxonomic classification:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Felidae
  • Genus: Caracal
  • Species: Caracal caracal

2. Scientific Name:

The scientific name of the caracal is Caracal caracal.

3. Sub-species:

In the 19th and 20th centuries, several caracal specimens were described and proposed as subspecies. Since 2017, three subspecies have been recognised as valid:

(i) Southern Caracal (Caracal caracal caracal):

  • Occurs in Southern and East Africa.

(ii) Northern Caracal (Caracal caracal nubicus):

  • Occurs in North and West Africa.

(iii) Asiatic Caracal (Caracal caracal schmitzi):

  • Occurs in Middle East to India.

These classifications highlight the geographic distribution of the caracal across different regions, with each subspecies adapted to its specific environment. 

4. Habitat:

The caracal (Caracal caracal) is a highly adaptable feline species that can inhabit various environments. Its habitat preferences can include:

(i) Savannas:

Caracals are often found in savanna regions, which offer a mix of grasslands and scattered trees. This environment provides cover for hunting and opportunities for stealthy movement.

(ii) Woodlands:

Wooded areas with a mix of trees and underbrush are suitable habitats for caracals. The cover provided by the vegetation can be advantageous for hunting and resting.

(iii) Arid Regions:

Caracals are known to inhabit arid and semi-arid regions, where they have adapted to the challenges of limited water sources and intense heat.

(iv) Rocky Terrain:

Regions with rocky terrain, such as mountainous areas, are also within the range of caracals. They are adept climbers and may use elevated positions for hunting or resting.

(v) Grasslands:

Open grasslands, particularly those with some cover, can serve as suitable habitats for caracals. These environments may support a variety of prey species.

(vi) Desert Edges:

Caracals are known to inhabit the edges of deserts, where they can find a mix of vegetation and open spaces.

(vii) Farmlands:

In some regions, caracals may venture into farmlands. This can lead to conflicts with humans due to predation on livestock.

(viii) Bushland:

Bushy and scrubby areas with dense vegetation can provide hiding spots for caracals and may support a diverse range of prey.

It's important to note that while caracals are adaptable, their presence in certain habitats can be influenced by factors such as prey availability, water sources, and the extent of human activity. Additionally, their territorial behavior may lead them to establish home ranges in areas that meet their specific needs for survival and reproduction.

5. Physical Appearance:

The caracal (Caracal caracal) is known for its distinctive and striking physical appearance. Here are some key features of its physical characteristics:

(i) Size and Build:

Caracals are medium-sized cats with a robust and compact build.

  • Male caracals measure in head-to-body length 78–108 cm (31–43 in).
  • Females have a head-to-body length of 71–103 cm (28–41 in).
  • At the shoulder, the caracal reaches nearly 40–50 cm (16–20 in).

(ii) Weight:

How much does a caracal weigh?

Adult caracals typically weigh between 7 to 18 kilograms (16 to 40 pounds).

  • Males: 7.2 and 18 kg
  • Females: 7 and 15.9 kg

(iii) Coat and Coloration:

The coat is short, dense, and soft. The coloration is usually reddish-brown or tawny, with a lighter underbelly. Some individuals may have faint spots or stripes on their coat.

(iv) Ears:

One of the most distinctive features of the caracal is its long, tufted ears. The black ear tufts are prominent and can be about 1.4 to 2 inches (35 to 50 millimeters) long. These tufts are composed of long, black hairs and stand erect, giving the appearance of black ear tufts. The ear tufts may start drooping as the animal ages.

(v) Eyes:

The eyes of the caracal are typically yellow to light brown, contributing to its intense and focused gaze.

(vi) Facial Features:

The caracal has distinctive facial features, including two black stripes from the forehead to the nose, a black outline of the mouth, black facial markings, and white patches surrounding the eyes and mouth.

(vii) Tail:

The tail is relatively short, with a black tip.

  • Males: 21–34 cm
  • Females: 18–31.5 cm

(viii) Legs:

Caracals have long legs, which contribute to their agility and ability to cover ground quickly.

(ix) Teeth and Claws:

Like all cats, caracals have sharp teeth and retractable claws. These adaptations are crucial for hunting and capturing prey.

6. Diet:

The caracal (Caracal caracal) is a carnivorous predator with a diet that primarily consists of small to medium-sized mammals and birds. Here are key aspects of the caracal's diet:

(i) Mammals:

Caracals often prey on small mammals, including rodents, hares, and small antelopes. They are skilled hunters capable of pursuing and capturing fast-moving prey.

(ii) Birds:

One of the notable hunting behaviors of the caracal is its ability to catch birds in mid-air. They use their agility, speed, and impressive jumping ability to capture flying prey. Ground-nesting birds may also be targeted when the caracal is on the hunt.

(iii) Other Prey:

Depending on the region and habitat, caracals may consume other prey such as reptiles, insects, and occasionally larger mammals like young ungulates.

(iv) Water Consumption:

Caracals can survive for long periods without water, as they obtain moisture from their prey. However, they do drink water when it is available.

(v) Prey on Domestic Livestock:

In certain regions, caracals may come into conflict with humans when they prey on domestic livestock such as chickens and small goats. This can lead to efforts to control or relocate caracals to mitigate such conflicts.

7. Behavior:

The caracal (Caracal caracal) exhibits various behaviors that contribute to its survival, hunting success, and interactions with its environment. Here are some key behaviors of the caracal:

(i) Solitary Nature:

Caracals are generally solitary animals, and adults typically prefer to live and hunt alone. They establish territories and mark them with urine to communicate their presence to other caracals.

(ii) Territorial Behavior:

Both male and female caracals are territorial, and they mark their territories using scent markings and vocalizations. The size of a territory can vary depending on factors like prey availability and habitat quality.

(iii) Communication:

Caracals use vocalizations such as growls, hisses, and meows to communicate with each other. These vocalizations may serve to establish territory boundaries, attract mates, or communicate with young.

(iv) Hissing:

Why caracal hiss?

Like many other cats, caracals may produce hissing sounds as a form of communication or to express discomfort, fear, or agitation. Hissing is often accompanied by other defensive behaviors such as arching the back, raising fur, and baring teeth. It's a warning signal that the caracal feels threatened and may attack if the perceived threat persists.

(v) Hunting Techniques:

Caracals are known for their exceptional jumping ability. They can leap high into the air to catch birds in flight. It can leap higher than 3.0 m (10 ft) and catch birds in midair. The long legs and agile body make them skilled hunters, capable of pursuing and capturing fast-moving prey.

(vi) Nocturnal and Crepuscular Activity:

While caracals are primarily crepuscular (active during dawn and dusk), they may also be nocturnal in areas with human activity during the day. This hunting behavior allows them to avoid extreme temperatures and potential conflicts with larger predators.

(vii) Resting and Shelter:

During the heat of the day, caracals may rest in shaded areas or take refuge in rocky crevices or dense vegetation to avoid extreme temperatures.

(viii) Domestication:

While caracals are wild animals and not domesticated in the same way as dogs or cats, there have been instances of caracals being kept in captivity or as exotic pets.

8. Reproduction:

The reproduction of caracals (Caracal caracal) involves specific behaviors and biological processes. Here are key aspects of caracal reproduction:

(i) Sexual Maturity and Breeding:

  • Both male and female caracals become sexually mature by the age of one year.
  • Gamete production starts as early as seven to ten months.
  • Successful mating usually occurs between 12 to 15 months.
  • Breeding takes place throughout the year.

(ii) Oestrus and Mating:

  • Oestrus, lasting one to three days, recurs every two weeks unless the female is pregnant.
  • Females in oestrus show increased urine-marking behavior and may form temporary pairs with males.
  • Mating involves copulation, lasting about four minutes on average, and includes behaviors like the male smelling the areas urine-marked by the female.

(iii) Gestation and Birth:

  • Gestation lasts approximately two to three months.
  • Births result in litters of one to six kittens.
  • Births often peak from October to February.
  • Kittens are born with closed eyes and ears, and their claws are non-retractable. The coat resembles that of adults, but the abdomen is spotted.

(iv) Kitten Development:

Caracal kittens are born blind and helpless. They open their eyes after about 10 days, and their ear tufts may start becoming noticeable. The mother provides care and protection for the kittens during their early stages of life.

(v) Development of Kittens:

  • Eyes open by ten days, and normal vision develops over time.
  • Ears become erect, and claws become retractable by the third or fourth week.
  • Kittens start roaming their birthplace and playing among themselves by the fifth or sixth week.
  • Solid food consumption begins around the same time.
  • Kittens have to wait nearly three months before making their first kill.

(vi) Maturation:

Caracals reach sexual maturity at around one to two years of age, depending on factors such as food availability and environmental conditions.

(vii) Dispersal:

As they mature, young caracals may disperse to find their own territories. This helps prevent inbreeding and maintains genetic diversity within the population. Some females may stay back with their mothers.

(viii) Parental Care:

The mother plays a crucial role in raising and caring for the kittens. She teaches them essential hunting skills and provides protection until they are old enough to fend for themselves.

(ix) Reproductive Cycles:

Caracals can go into estrus, or the receptive phase of their reproductive cycle, after giving birth, allowing for the possibility of having multiple litters in a year.

9. Lifespan:

The average lifespan of caracals (Caracal caracal) can vary depending on factors such as their environment, availability of food, and whether they are in the wild or in captivity.

In the wild, caracals generally have a shorter lifespan compared to those in captivity. In the wild, their lifespan is typically around 12 to 15 years, but it can be influenced by various factors such as predation, diseases, and the availability of resources.

In captivity, caracals can live longer due to the absence of many of the threats faced in the wild. The average lifespan of caracals in captivity is often cited as nearly 16 years. This longer lifespan in captivity is attributed to factors such as consistent access to food, veterinary care, and protection from natural predators.

10. Speed:

Caracals (Caracal caracal) are known for their impressive speed and agility, especially in the context of hunting. Here are some key points related to the speed of caracals:

(i) Sprinting Speed:

Caracals are capable of reaching high speeds in short bursts. They are known to be swift runners and can achieve speeds of up to 80 kilometers per hour (50 miles per hour).

(ii) Agility and Leaping Ability:

In addition to their straight-line sprinting speed, caracals are highly agile and have remarkable leaping abilities. They can jump to considerable heights, making them adept at catching birds in mid-air.

(iii) Stalking and Ambushing:

Caracals often rely on stalking and ambushing techniques to get close to their prey before launching a rapid chase. Their ability to accelerate quickly and make sharp turns is crucial during these pursuits.

The exceptional speed and agility of caracals make them effective hunters, especially in open landscapes where quick bursts of speed and precise movements are advantageous. These characteristics are well-adapted to their natural environment and contribute to their success as predators.

Caracal in India (Asiatic Caracal UPSC)

Where is caracal found in India?/Which national park has caracals?

The caracal (Caracal caracal) is found in various regions across the globe, including several dozen countries in Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Central and South Asia. The Asiatic caracal (Caracal caracal schmitzi), a subspecies of the caracal, is found in India. 

Key points about the caracal in India include:

1. Historical Significance: 

Caracals have historical significance in India, particularly in the context of hunting. They were used for hunting purposes during different historical periods. The practice is believed to have extended the caracal's presence beyond its natural range to regions like Ladakh in the north and Bengal in the east. The caracal was the only other feline which was used for hunting in India.

The historical use of caracals in India for hunting purposes is mentioned in various accounts. Historical records indicate that Firoz Shah Tughlaq (1351-88), a ruler from the Tughlaq dynasty, had many caracals in his hunting establishment. Additionally, it is well-documented in the Mughal Court records by Abul Fazl that Akbar (1556-1605), the great Mughal emperor, had a fondness for using caracals for hunting purposes.

The presence of descriptions and illustrations of the caracal in medieval texts, such as the Anvar-i-Suhayli, Tutinama, Khamsa-e-Nizami, and Shahnameh, reflects the historical significance and cultural relevance of this majestic feline. These texts provide insights into the perceptions and interactions of people with the caracal in various regions.

The Saidnamah-i-Nigarin manual, originating from the Bundela Rajput princely state of Ajaigarh in Central India, provides further insights into the hunting capabilities of caracals. According to this manual, caracals could be trained to hunt various prey, including squirrels and birds such as kites, cranes, and crows. Remarkably, they were also trained to hunt animals much larger than themselves, such as the cheetal (spotted deer), the barasingha (swamp deer), and the nilgai (blue bull).

A notable historical account mentions that Robert Clive, associated with the East India Company, was presented with a caracal after his victory in the Battle of Plassey in 1757. This exemplifies how the caracal was valued and appreciated, even to the extent of being given as a gift in recognition of significant achievements.

These historical accounts highlight the remarkable hunting abilities and versatility of caracals in the context of traditional practices in India. The use of caracals for hunting, especially in the royal courts, underscores their significance in historical cultural practices and the interactions between humans and these fascinating feline species.

2. Habitat

Caracals are primarily found in tropical dry deciduous and tropical thorn and shrub forests in Central and Western India. 

3. Distribution: 

The historical distribution and habitat range of the caracal in India extended across several states characterized by arid and semi-arid scrub forests and ravines. The species was once found in the following regions:

  • Rajasthan
  • Delhi
  • Haryana
  • Punjab
  • Gujarat
  • Madhya Pradesh
  • Uttar Pradesh
  • Maharashtra
  • Andhra Pradesh
  • Telangana
  • Odisha
  • Jharkhand
  • Chhattisgarh

However, current observations and reports indicate a significant reduction in the caracal's presence. Today, the caracal's range is reported to be restricted to specific areas:

  • Rajasthan
  • Kutch (Gujarat)
  • Parts of Madhya Pradesh

4. Local Names: 

What is caracal called in India?

In different regions of India, caracals are known by various local names. For example, in the Kutch dialect of Gujarat, they are referred to as "Hornotro," meaning killer of a Blackbuck, while in Rajasthan, they are known as "Junglee Bilaoor." In Madhya Pradesh it is locally called as Shea-gosh or siyah-gush.

Caracal Population in India

Here are key points about Caracal Population in India:

1. Population Estimate:

An estimated 50 caracals are believed to remain in small clusters in the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh. This precarious number makes the caracal the second cat species, after the Asiatic cheetah, to approach the brink of extinction in India.

2. Elusiveness and Lack of Studies:

Caracals are elusive and primarily nocturnal, making sightings rare. Very few studies have been conducted on the wildcat, leading to a lack of reliable data on current and historical populations.

3. Historical Habitat Decline:

Historically, caracals inhabited 13 Indian states (Rajasthan, Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh) in arid and semi-arid scrub forests and ravines. However, between the period before Independence and 2000, their habitat reportedly shrunk by almost half. After 2001, sightings have been reported only in three states: Rajasthan, Gujarat, and parts of Madhya Pradesh.

4. Extent of Occurrence Decrease:

From 2001 to 2020, the reported extent of occurrence decreased by 95.95%, with the current presence restricted to 16,709 sq km, less than 5% of the caracal’s reported extent of occurrence in the 1948-2000 period.

5. Causes of Decline:

The decline in caracal populations is attributed mainly to the loss of habitat and increasing urbanization. Habitat loss is exacerbated by infrastructure projects such as road building, leading to fragmentation and disruption of the caracal's ecology and movement.

6. Critically Endangered Species Recovery Program:

The inclusion of the caracal (Caracal caracal) in the list of Critically Endangered species under the critically endangered species recovery program by the National Board for Wildlife and the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in 2021 is a significant step toward recognizing and addressing the conservation needs of this species in India.

Caracal Protection Status

Here is the conservation status and protection status of the caracal (Caracal caracal):

1. IUCN Status:

The caracal is categorized as "Least Concern" on the IUCN Red List. This designation implies that the species is not currently considered to be facing a high risk of extinction.

2. CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Status:

The caracal is listed under CITES Appendix I. Species listed under Appendix I are those threatened with extinction, and international trade in specimens of these species is generally prohibited, except in certain circumstances.

3. Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 (India):

In India, the caracal is listed under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. This schedule provides the highest level of legal protection, and offenses related to species listed under Schedule I are subject to severe penalties.

Caracal Conservation

Caracal conservation involves a range of efforts aimed at protecting and preserving the caracal species and its habitats. Here are key aspects of caracal conservation:

1. Habitat Protection:

Caracal conservation begins with identifying and safeguarding critical habitats where the species resides. This involves efforts to protect, restore, and rehabilitate degraded ecosystems to ensure suitable living conditions for caracals.

2. Research and Monitoring:

Scientific research is crucial for understanding caracal behavior, ecology, and population dynamics. Monitoring programs, utilizing techniques like camera traps and radio tracking, provide essential data on population size, distribution, and overall health.

3. Anti-Poaching Measures:

Implementing robust anti-poaching initiatives is vital to prevent illegal hunting and trade of caracals. Strengthening law enforcement efforts helps combat wildlife crime and ensures the protection of these elusive felines.

4. Community Involvement:

Engaging local communities in conservation efforts is key. This includes education programs highlighting the importance of caracals for ecosystem balance and implementing community-based initiatives that incentivize wildlife protection.

5. Education and Awareness:

Raising awareness about caracals and the threats they face is essential. Educational programs aim to inform the public, and responsible tourism practices help minimize human-wildlife conflicts.

6. Policy and Legislation:

Advocating for policies and regulations that support caracal conservation is crucial. Working towards strong legal frameworks ensures the protection of caracals and their habitats.

7. International Collaboration:

Collaboration with international organizations, governments, and conservation groups is essential for implementing effective transboundary conservation efforts. Sharing knowledge and best practices globally enhances conservation impact.

8. Captive Breeding and Reintroduction:

Developing and implementing captive breeding programs ensures genetic diversity. Exploring opportunities for reintroducing captive-bred individuals into suitable habitats contributes to population sustainability.

9. Climate Change Mitigation:

Addressing the impacts of climate change on caracal habitats and prey availability is imperative. Integrating climate change considerations into conservation planning enhances the resilience of caracal populations.

10. Funding and Support:

Securing funding for conservation initiatives through grants, partnerships, and donations is crucial. Collaborating with governmental agencies, NGOs, and private organizations helps garner support for sustained caracal conservation efforts.

Caracal conservation necessitates a holistic approach, considering ecological, social, and economic factors. The collaboration of local communities, policymakers, and international entities is essential for the success of these conservation endeavors.


1. Habitat Loss:

The primary threat to caracals is habitat loss due to human activities such as agriculture, urbanization, and infrastructure development. As their natural habitats shrink, caracals face increased competition for resources and heightened human-wildlife conflicts.

2. Human-Wildlife Conflict:

As urban areas expand into caracal habitats, conflicts arise. Caracals may prey on domestic livestock, leading to retaliation by farmers. This conflict poses a significant threat to caracal populations, often resulting in the killing of individuals perceived as threats.

3. Poaching and Illegal Trade:

Caracals are targeted by poachers for their distinctive fur, bones, and other body parts, driven by demand in illegal wildlife trade. This poses a severe threat to the species, contributing to population decline and disrupting ecosystems.

4. Road Mortality:

As roads intersect caracal habitats, these animals face an increased risk of being struck by vehicles. Road mortality poses a direct threat to caracal populations, especially in areas where transportation infrastructure intersects their natural ranges.

5. Fragmentation of Habitats:

Habitat fragmentation occurs when natural landscapes are divided by roads, agriculture, or other developments. This disrupts caracals' ability to move freely, impacting their access to resources, breeding opportunities, and increasing vulnerability to threats.

6. Climate Change:

Climate change can affect caracals and their habitats. Altered precipitation patterns, temperature changes, and habitat shifts impact the availability of prey species and can lead to the degradation of suitable habitats, affecting caracal populations.

7. Disease:

Disease outbreaks, especially those transmitted by domestic animals, can pose a threat to caracals. Encounters with domestic animals may expose caracals to pathogens, leading to the spread of diseases within their populations.

8. Reduced Prey Availability:

Changes in land use and depletion of natural prey due to hunting or competition with other species can result in reduced food availability for caracals. This negatively impacts their health and reproductive success.

9. Lack of Awareness:

Limited public awareness about the importance of caracals and their conservation needs contributes to the challenges they face. Lack of understanding can hinder efforts to mitigate threats and garner support for conservation initiatives.

10. Capture for Exotic Pets:

While the caracal is rarely hunted or killed, recent cases have been detected of the animal being captured for the exotic pet trade, contributing to the decline in population.

Addressing these threats requires collaborative efforts involving communities, governments, conservation organizations, and researchers. Conservation strategies should focus on habitat preservation, conflict mitigation, anti-poaching measures, and raising awareness to ensure the long-term survival of caracal populations.

Caracal UPSC Question

Q. What is caracal?

A. The caracal (Caracal caracal) is a medium-sized wild cat native to Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and parts of India. 

Q. How high can a caracal jump?

A. The caracal (Caracal caracal) is renowned for its impressive jumping ability. These agile cats are known to be exceptional jumpers, and they can leap to great heights to catch birds in flight. While precise measurements of their jumping height can vary, it is generally accepted that caracals can jump up to 3 meters (about 9.8 feet) vertically to catch birds or other prey.

Their powerful hind legs and strong muscles enable them to make these high jumps with ease. Caracals are skilled hunters, and their ability to jump great heights allows them to catch birds mid-air, demonstrating their remarkable agility and athleticism. This behavior is a key adaptation to their hunting strategy, especially in environments where birds are a significant part of their diet.

Q. Is caracal critically endangered?

A.  The caracal (Caracal caracal) is not classified as "Endangered" on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. As per the IUCN's assessment, the caracal is categorized as "Least Concern," which means it is not currently facing a high risk of extinction.

Q. Are caracal cats friendly?

A. Caracals, like many wild cats, are not domesticated animals, and they are generally not considered suitable as pets. They are wild animals with instincts and behaviors that differ significantly from those of domestic cats. While caracals may display certain characteristics that can be interpreted as friendly, they are fundamentally wild and may not exhibit the same behaviors as domesticated cats.

Q. Is caracal dangerous?

A. Caracals, like all wild animals, have the potential to be dangerous. They are wild cats with natural instincts and behaviors that differ from those of domesticated animals. While caracals are generally solitary and elusive, they are equipped with sharp claws, strong jaws, and other physical attributes that can be used for hunting and self-defense.

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