Caracal (Caracal caracal)
SCIENTIFIC NAME Caracal caracal
COMMON NAMES African Caracal, African Lynx, Asian Caracal, Persian Lynx, Caracal Lynx, Desert Lynx
NAME ORIGIN The name Caracal comes from Turkish word “karakulak” meaning ‘black eared’. The Swahili name for Caracal is “Simbamangu” which means ‘secretive lion’ or ‘secretive cat’ as they are rarely seen.
IDENTIFICATION The Caracal has distinctive long dark tufts on its large, pointed ears. It is one of the few cat species that don’t have any spots or stripes on its coat.
UNIQUE BEHAVIOR Caracals are capable of tremendous aerial acrobatic jumps. They can leap into the air and knock down 10-12 birds at one time (see video).
LIFE CYCLE Caracal females can reproduce any time during the year, although births may peak at certain times in areas of distinct seasonal variation. Two to three Caracal kittens are born in a litter and kittens will remain with the female until nine or ten months old.
HISTORY Caracals were once tamed and trained for bird hunting in Iran and India. They were put into arenas containing a flock of pigeons, and wagers were made as to how many birds the cat would take down. This is the origin of the expression “to put a cat among the pigeons”.
Serval (Leptailurus serval)
SCIENTIFIC NAME Leptailurus serval
COMMON NAMES African Serval, Serval, Serval Cat
NAME ORIGIN The name Serval is derived from a Portuguese word meaning “deerlike wolf” (cervus = deer). In Africa it is commonly referred to as a ‘bush cat’, and in Afrikaans (South Africa) it is known as a “tierboskat” which means ‘tiger bush cat’.
CONSERVATION STATUS: Least Concern (Global). IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2017-1. <www.iucnredlist.org>.
Note that within each country the conservation status can differ to the global status.
IDENTIFICATION Serval have a combination of spots and stripes on their coats, and they have very large rounded ears for picking up the sounds of prey in long grasses.
UNIQUE BEHAVIOR The Serval has a very characteristic pouncing technique when hunting rodents. It leaps high into the air and then lands on the prey with its forepaws, stunning the prey in the process (see video).
LIFE CYCLE Serval cats produce litters all through the year with births peaking in the wet season. Gestation is between 67 to 75 days and on average two to three kittens are born on in a litter.
HISTORY The Serval was the symbol of the Italian Tomasi family, princes of the island of Lampedusa. Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, wrote the famous Italian novel ‘IlGattopardo’. Despite being known as ‘The Leopard’ in English, the Italian title actually refers to a Serval. The Serval’s North African range is near Lampedusa.
African Golden Cat (Caracal aurata)
African Golden Cat Information
SCIENTIFIC NAME Caracal aurata
NAME ORIGIN The Golden Cat gets the name from its reddish coat. The full common name is the African Golden Cat which distinguishes it from the similar Asian Golden Cat. There are no other English common names, although the greyish form used to be called the Silver Cat, until it was established they were in fact the same species.
CONSERVATION STATUS: Vulnerable (Global). IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
IDENTIFICATION The African Golden Cat has a stocky build with a short tail and the coat varies from reddish to grey.
BEHAVIOR The solitary African Golden Cat feeds mainly on rodents and birds, and is active at dawn and dusk (crepuscular) and at night (nocturnal).
LIFE CYCLE From the few African Golden Cats that have been kept in captivity, gestation (pregnancy) is 75 days with two kittens in a litter and weaning at about six weeks.
Jungle Cat (Felis chaus)
Jungle Cat Information
SCIENTIFIC NAME Felis chaus
COMMON NAMES Although called the Jungle Cat in Asia, it is commonly known as the Swamp Cat or Reed Cat in Africa (subspecies Felis chaus nilotica) due to its occurrence in wet habitats.
NAME ORIGIN The name Felis chaus was derived from the Caucasus Mountains where the Jungle Cat was first discovered.
HISTORY The Jungle Cat was tamed by ancient Egyptians to hunt wildfowl and has been featured in Egyptian art. A few mummified remains have been found in tombs.
IDENTIFICATION The Jungle Cat’s plain coat varies from sandy yellow to reddish in its southern range to shades of grey in the north. There are light brown stripes on the legs and a few rings on the tail which has a dark tip.
UNIQUE BEHAVIOUR Jungle Cats feed mainly on small rodents, birds, hares, fish and reptiles. They are often active in the daytime and are unusually good swimmers. In the wild they make use of the disused burrows of other animals but with the loss of habitat they are increasingly being sighted near human settlements.
African Wildcat (Felis lybica)
African Wildcat Information
SCIENTIFIC NAME Felis silvestris lybica or Felis lybica
COMMON NAMES The African Wildcat is also known as the Desert Cat, African Desert Cat or simply Wildcat. In Afrikaans (South Africa) vaalboskat means ‘grey bush cat’.
HISTORY African Wildcats diverged from the other Wildcat subspecies about 131,000 years ago. Some individuals were first domesticated about 10,000 years ago in the Middle East, and are the ancestors of the domestic cat. Remains of domesticated wildcats have been included in human burials as far back as 9,500 years ago in Cyprus.
IDENTIFICATION The African Wildcat looks similar to a short-haired domestic tabby cat, but has reddish colouring on the back of the ears, over its abdomen and on the back of its hind legs.
UNIQUE BEHAVIOUR Although African Wildcats are listed as common and widespread in Africa, their genetic integrity is threatened by interbreeding with domestic and feral cats. It is becoming quite rare to come across a pure bred African Wildcat.
Sand Cat (Felis margarita)
Sand Cat Information
SCIENTIFIC NAME Felis margarita
NAME ORIGIN The Sand Cat was discovered in 1858 and was named after the French expedition leader General Margueritte. The other common name is the ‘sand dune cat’.
IDENTIFICATION The diminutive Sand Cat is stocky with short legs and a long tail. The light brown coat has greyish fur on the back and paler fur below, with a few stripes on the limbs and tail.
BEHAVIOUR The solitary Sand Cat feeds mainly on small desert rodents, hares, birds, reptiles and insects. They rarely drink water and obtain sufficient moisture from their prey. The cats dig burrows or extend other animals’ burrows where they live to escape the harsh desert conditions.
Black-footed Cat (Felis nigripes)
Black-footed Cat Information
SCIENTIFIC NAME Felis nigripes
NAME ORIGIN The Black-footed Cat is named after the black undersides of its feet. It is also called the Small Spotted Cat after its tiny size and the spots on its coat.
In Afrikaans (South Africa) it is called a miershooptier, which means “Anthill Tiger”, as it often makes its den in abandoned termite mounds and has a ferocious demeanour.
SIZE The Black-footed Cat is the second smallest cat species in the world and the smallest African cat, weighing a maximum of only 2.5 kgs.
IDENTIFICATION The Black-footed Cat is a very small species of wild cat, covered with small dark spots and has a short face similar to domestic cats.
UNIQUE BEHAVIOUR The Black-footed Cat lives in semi-arid regions and obtains all its moisture from its food. It requires no drinking water at all.