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The caracal cat is one of Africa’s ultimate hunters, a stealthy cat with an exceptional ability to hunt out prey on the savanna.

Except nobody pays too much attention to the caracal cat, even on a safari. It’s way down the list of favourite safari sights but it shouldn’t be.

To encounter a caracal is one of an African safari’s ultimate treats, for these are very special creatures different from everything else.

Here are 14 incredible caracal cat facts so you can learn all about this astonishing animal.

1. What Does ‘Caracal’ Mean?

Close-up of a caracal, with its distinctive tufted ears

The word ‘caracal’ comes from the Turkish term karakulak, meaning ‘black ears’.

The caracal’s ears are arguably its most distinctive feature, sticking up and twisting in all directions, like a periscope on a submarine.

2. Caracal’s Closest Kin

In terms of appearance, many similarities can be noted between the caracal and the common house cat. They both share the small, almost spherical head with tiny marble-like eyes. However, the caracal is more closely associated with and often mistaken for the serval.

Despite a near identical body shape and structure, the visible differences between the serval and the caracal are actually quite striking. The caracal looks like a serval that hasn’t yet developed its black spots.

The easiest way to tell the two apart is by their ears. Servals don’t have the caracal cat’s distinctive ear tufts.

3. How Big is a Caracal Cat?

Caracal relaxing on a sandy road in Etosha, Namibia

Caracals can reach 1 metre in length and about 18 kg in weight. Males are always slightly heftier than their female partners.

The caracal slots in nicely, midway up the size chart of the planet’s cats. It’s big enough to take care of itself and fend off would be foe, but not quite big enough to mix it with the might of the apex predators.

4. Caracal Cat Ears

A caracal has ears that seem to be constantly pricked up in readiness or on alert. An amazing 20 muscles control these unnaturally long and pointy sound detectors, making it the mobile satellite system of the cat family.

These super sensitive audio antennas are made even more effective by the tufts of hair which protrude from the top. These act as a funnel to capture and reverberate the slightest sound picked out of the air.

5. How High Can a Caracal Jump?

Although one of the smaller members of the wild cat congregation, what caracals lack in brute force they make up for with astounding agility.

The caracal cat can leap as high as 4 metres, frequently after silently stalking and then sprinting down its prey.

Often seen batting birds out of the sky, straight after terrified take-off, the reactions and coordination of these medium-sized cats is unparalleled.

6. How Fast is a Caracal?

Debunking the misconception that the bigger cats corner the market on sprinting speed, the caracal has been known to reach rates of 80 kph (50 mph) when in full flight.

Subscribing to the same hunting techniques as most of its feline family, it doesn’t possess the deepest stores of stamina. So a skilfully sly approach without detection is key for any successful hunt.

7. What Do Caracal Cats Eat?

Caracal eating a small animal

As is the case with all other members of the cat family, from the smallest tabby cat to the largest Siberian tiger, the caracal feeds upon a mostly meat-based diet.

Due to size and power constraints, it would be overambitious of a caracal to try and take down a zebra or oryx like its bigger cousins, the lion or the leopard.

The caracal satisfies itself with a mixture of more miniature morsels – rodents, birds, rabbits – but doesn’t shy away from the odd bulkier-bodied bounty – such as gazelle or some of Africa’s smallest antelope species.

8. Caracal’s Durability Without Drink

Like an economical car which doesn’t need to stop regularly to fill up on gas, the caracal can go for significantly longer than its cat cousins without rehydration.

Owing to an advanced water storage system and an advantageous ability to squeeze the last bits of liquid from its food, the caracal can safely survive for longer without stopping to drink.

This specialist attribute allows it to sustain itself throughout long-distance treks across dry, arid lands in search of nutrition. In short, the caracal cat can roam further from water, which means it can find its own food, away from the competition of lions and leopards.

9. Wild Things Should Not Be Owned

Caracal portrait on gravel road

Throughout history, the rich and famous have wanted to buy and cage the world’s wildest animals as status symbols.

It seems there’s an inane need to show a sense of superior power by taking the universe’s most magnificent creatures and enslaving them. What is thought to be an exhibition of exuberance is actually just a sure sign of low self-esteem.

The caracal cat should not be a pet, nor should any of Africa’s magnificent cats.

10. Famous Owners of Wild Animals

Mike Tyson – once known as, ‘the baddest man on the planet’ – recently confessed to a feeling of regret for owning pet tigers.

Baddest man on the planet or not, if it had been so inclined, his ‘pet’ tiger could have snapped his neck with one brutish bite and chomped on him like a chew toy.

Mike Tyson was a product of his harrowing upbringing and environment. Tigers are a consequence of years of evolution and predisposed nature. They don’t maul and maim because they’re evil, vindictive or in pain. They do it because that’s what cats do.

This sometimes cruel and callous custom of finding ways to control and restrict those who thrive on freedom, has stretched its paws and reached its claws as far as the caracal cat.

11. The Caracal Cat as a Pet

Adult caracal and young staring at the camera from behind a log, in Samburu National Reserve

Physical similarities between the caracal and the common house cat have led to many caracal cats being procured as pets.

Though not as ferocious as a tiger or a lion, experts are unmoved in their criticism of anybody who thinks a caracal can live contently in controlled domestication.

It’s true that the caracal can be a playful little pussy, rolling around and smooching with its human owners just like a house cat.

We mustn’t forget that they are wild at heart and as exotic creatures, the constraints of a house will become a source of great sadness and stress. Caracal cats should never be pets.

12. Wild Cats Will Be Wild Cats, Including the Caracal

When we see some of the planet’s proudest predators burrowing their heads into a slain animal’s rib cage, quarreling over the remains of the delicious quarry, some of us mistakenly view them as cold-blooded killers.

Emotion does not come into it. They are programmed to do what they just did and they will do it again without a second thought, as soon as the brain sends the necessary signal to say that they are hungry.

Every single member of the cat clan is designed to survive, defend and attack. Nothing else is of any interest or importance.

13. Is a Caracal Dangerous?

Caracal cat on gravel road

Quite simply, yes.

Though a caracal is not likely to wait for you to fall asleep and rip your face off on the first day, it is a cat, and a wild one at that.

A caracal has the genetic makeup and tools to attack anything and anyone that it deems to be dangerous.

A caracal has sharp fangs with the exclusive remit of biting to rip, shred and kill. Its retractable claws are not primarily there for scratching an itch behind its ear. They are for slashing at possible threats and for sticking into a rival’s flesh to cause harm.

14. How Much is a Caracal Cat?

To buy a caracal legally with all the correct procedures and documentation, can cost you well over £1500 ($2000).

You might think that this is a reasonable price, costing the same as a nice holiday or bad second-hand car, but that’s simply the beginning.

The associated fees and hidden costs soon pile up with specialist medical bills, the rarity and sheer volume of food, and the extra equipment needed to ensure that the caracal’s environment is conducive to a happy, healthy existence. Caracals cost a lot to keep, and that’s before the cat hunts your neighbour’s pet puppy.

Try taking your sick caracal to a local city vet or stopping by the mini-mart to pick up its food and you may find yourself getting some nervous, inquisitive looks.

So let’s reconfirm – caracal cats should never be pets. They are the wild inhabitants of the Africa savanna.

Caracal Cat Conclusions

Caracal exploring the wilderness, in Kgalagadi's Transfrontier Park

The caracal is a cat of great courage and beauty. With its extraordinarily long and pointy ears and its freakish ability to fling itself metres in the air and almost fly, it is a predator to be feared and an animal to inspire awe.

The best place to see a caracal cat is in its natural habitat, on an African safari. Anywhere else is just plain cruel, because who would want to house or cage such incredibly beautiful wild animals.