Fears that caracal prey on domestic pets

Since Brett Castel’s pictures of a caracal in an oak tree in Pekalmy, Bergvliet were published, there have been 1 416 shares of this amazing sighting (Bulletin, February 18).

Many people expressed surprise that these beautiful wildcats are living so close to suburbia (“Watch out for caracal near our urban roads,” Bulletin, December 10 2015).

Catherine Anderson wrote that caracal adapt well to residential areas “like how the fox has moved into London. They do, however, prey on domestic cats, so can be a problem. But as you can see (from the picture), she probably has more than enough squirrels and rats to catch”.

From spoor in a parking area of a flat in Muizenberg to Newlands Forest, Tygerberg Hills, Koeberg Nature Reserve and a tree in Cecilia Forest where Wendy Holliday spotted a female with cubs, more and more people are seeing them.

In fact some residents suspect them of eating their pets.

John Harris of Constantia said he believes two of his three cats have been taken by caracal.

This was first reported to the Bulletin at a Constantia Hills an- nual general meeting about two-years-ago.

Another resident reports that a rabbit and squirrels have vanished from Die Oog Nature Reserve in Bergvliet after caracal moved into the area.

And Casey Korck said her kitten was killed by a caracal many years ago.

The Urban Caracal Project is a partnership between the Cape Leopard Trust, UCT, SANParks and the University of California, Santa Cruz. Since it was established in late 2014, researching caracals in and around Cape Town it has been unexpectedly successful.

Heading the project is Dr Laurel Serieys who, with the Urban Caracal Project field team, has discovered some interesting facts which should help foster a better understanding of caracal behaviour.

She said their research area stretched from Table Mountain National Park south as far as Cape Point.

So far, 22 caracals have been fitted with sophisticated GPS tracking collars, enabling the researches to accurately assess the movement of these animals to see just how far these city dwellers move and what they get up to.

The project has found that some caracals cover large distances – with territories covering 150km2 in just a few months. Their diet consists mostly of birds such as guinea fowl, hadedas, doves, and pigeons. The project has also found evidence of a breeding season for caracals although historically they’ve been thought to have no breeding season.

However, the evidence is compelling that females have kittens around September.

The gestation period is around 70 days, meaning breeding season occurs near the end of winter locally.

Gavin Bell, manager of the south section of Table Mountain National Park said all species in the reserve are important and an asset to all. “Caracal are a key stone species in TMNP as they perform a major function in the ecosystem of the park, that is they keep the rodent populations down.”

Caracal facts:

Caracals are tawny red in colour with pale underbellies and flexible pointed, tufted ears.

Caracals are the largest animal predator remaining in Table Mountain National Park and surrounds.

An average, full-grown female caracal in Table Mountain National Park weighs about 8kg and a male around 13kg.

GPS data suggest that caracals largely avoid conflict and human activity wherever possible.

Caracals are commonly hit by cars in and around Cape Town.

They are nocturnal hunters and very active at dawn and dusk, which coincides with rush hour traffic during winter months – a problem for caracals if they are more frequently crossing the roads during this time.