Friday, July 3, 2009

Caracal: A Cat that Stole the Show.. .

(This tale is from the bushes of Ranthambhore it is about a cat, who can eat your soul. The story tells about an elusive cat species – The Caracal)

Seeing a caracal is a reverie for researchers, dream of wildlifers and ultimate fantasy of photographers.

(The sketch is made by Mr. Arjun Srivathsa

Hence one can understand that yearning even a glimpse of this mysterious cat is difficult. Many other species are equally hard to see like the snow leopards or red panda. To see a snow leopard one has to climb high Himalayan mountains in freezing temperatures, while to see a red panda one has to overcome the nasty rains and various hurdles associated with a rain forest, but with a caracal it is not like that, Caracal resides in the main lands of India.

Geographically these areas are easily approachable, some are also the main tourism hubs of India such as Ranthambhore and Sariska. Thousands of tourists, hundreds of vehicles go in these areas every day, yet the caracal remains in shadows.

After its sighting some view it as god’s grace while others as luck but researchers, wildlifers and photographers know it is not a matter of persistence or resolute to see a caracal, it is seen only to those whom he wants to see.

I went to speak to Mr. Jogi about this mysterious cat. Jogiji please tell us the facts and figures of caracal, his behaviour and threats?

Jogi started. . ... Caracal is a Turkish word "karakulak" which means "black ear".

Caracals are known and called by many names: The Indian Lynx, Divyabhanu Singhji says in his book ‘The end of a trail’ that the animal has no hindi or urdu name but it is known as ‘Siagos’ which is in persian, however Balendu Singhji a known wildlifer and lodge owner says it has a popular name in Rajasthani ‘Mor mar Bhageri’. The kutchi dialect of gujarati has a name for it ‘Harnotro’ meaning haran (Chinkara) like colour.

Scientific name of caracal is Caracal caracal (Schreber, 1776)














Gray, 1843


C. caracal

Caracal Sub species: like the Tiger, Caracal also have nine subspecies.

  1. Caracal caracal caracal, East, Central and South Africa
  2. Caracal caracal algira, North Africa
  3. Caracal caracal damarensis, Namibia
  4. Caracal caracal limpopoensis, Botswana
  5. Caracal caracal lucani, Gabon
  6. Caracal caracal michaelis, Turkmenistan (endangered)
  7. Caracal caracal nubica, Ethiopia, Sudan
  8. Caracal caracal poecilotis, West Africa
  9. Caracal caracal schmitzi, Israel, West Asia, Iran, Arabia, Pakistan, India

Distribution: Caracals are native to Africa, Asia, and even certain areas of the Middle East.

In India it is reported in Ranthambhore (Rajasthan), Sariska (Rajasthan), Kutch (Gujarat) and Chambal (Rajasthan and MP).

Dr. Ishwar Prakash, Director ZSI (Regional office Bikaner) reported caracal from Bikaner District. – Source: Shri. VD Sharma, Rtd. PCCF, Rajasthan.

Caracal Distribution across the globe

Human and caracal:

Other then the cheetah the caracals was the only other feline which was used by the Moghul’s for hunting, in those days. Divyabhanu Sinhji has written an amazing article on ‘Hunting with Caracal’ in his book ‘The end of a trail – the Cheetah in India’.

A businessman near alwar - Sariska, Mr. Kishen Rungta, found 2 cubs whom he raised. The cubs used to hunt kites. Source: Shri. VD Sharma, Rtd PCCF, Rajasthan.

It couldn’t influence art and culture like tigers and lions, because of his elusiveness.

This is by unknown painter of Moghul period, 17th century. As seen the artist has inaccurately drawn the tail long, because the animal was equally elusive and mysterious in those days. The tail has black marking while in reality caracal tail doesn’t have such markings.

Indian Government released a postage stamp on caracal in the year 1976

Arabian and African Coins with Caracal images

Caracal being elusive its not necessary its not hunted, in 1982- 83 caracal skin was recovered in Pali district from Jogi community. Source: Shri. VD Sharma, Rtd. PCCF, Rajasthan.

But in Africa caracal skin is traded; to authenticate this we found a web site offering caracal skin for sale along with many other animals.

Skin of African Caracal put for sale on a website

Physical features:

Body shape and size: The caracal is a medium sized cat.

The Caracal's hind legs are longer than its front, which helps it in leaping in the air. The front legs and shoulders are heavily muscled, to help it clamp on to its prey. Its hind paws are smaller than its front paws, but are still large enough. All the paws are wide, and well padded, to help its movement remain quiet in grass, or to walk in a deep silence. Each paw also ends in four retractable claws, which are four to five nailsbreadth in length. They are capable of tremendous aerial acrobatic jumps and can land safely.. .Caracals have the claim to fame of being the "fastest of all the small cats". The caracal has also been known to leap up into the air to successfully catch flying birds as prey.

Tail: caracal has a short tail compared to jungle cat.

Color: The caracal is normally dark red, grey, or golden sand in colour and as the caracals name suggests, the caracal’s ears are black, with tufts. Young caracals bear reddish spots on the underbelly that disappear when they grow up.

Ears: Caracal possesses a very unique distinguishing physical feature. Its ears are elongated, narrow and tipped with long black tufts of black hair on top of each ear. These notorious long "ear tufts" can be as long as 3 inches and actually serve an important purpose which helps insure the Caracals survival.

In most cases, everything in nature has a purpose. In this case, not only do the ear tufts help direct sound waves into the animal’s ears, but they also help reduce noise created when the animals head disturbs low lying branches. This allows the Caracal to approach very close to its prey when hunting by helping silent the Caracal's approach which maximizes the probability of catching prey.

I asked Jogiji, 'How did you know so much on the caracal?' Jogi said, 'I have a dear friend Shomita Mukherjee, the Small Cat expert of India. We had a long discussion on the caracal when she was here in Ranthambhore.'

Dr. Shomita Mukherjee - India's Small Cat Expert

Read a bit about shomita’s work:

Dr. Shomita Mukherjee

Chief interst of Dr. Mukherjee lies in the ecology of small cats. She has studied the jungle cat,fishing cat, caracal and rusty-spotted cat in varying degrees. Most of her field experience has been in the western arid/semi-arid parts of India. In the laboratory she has standardized techniques to study large-carnivore diet and looked at global body-size variation in jungle cats through skullmorphometry. Currently she is exploring the utility of non-invasive DNA analysis to study small-carnivore ecology and phylogepgraphy. She is also involved in a project that aims to create a DNA database for leopards in Mumbai to help managers resolve human-leopard conflict.


After all those factual details, Jogi said further ‘Arrey so much gyan, now listen, Dharmendra recently had a fantastic sighting of Caracal family with a kill inside Ranthambhore National Park; we should talk to him about his experience’.

Dharmendra was sitting in his office editing the odd 500 pictures of caracal that he took during the sighting.. .

Ruchik, Radhika and myself kept looking at the pictures .. . With sparkling eyes he said after 6 years of wait the mysterious creature showed up!

‘I was in Zone 5, in the Pilli Ghati, Kachida area, when a gypsy ahead was standing, Raees bhai, my vehicle driver rushed there and Lo! We saw a caracal walking along the road and entering the bushes, then we sighted the caracal with two full grown cubs...! oh ! total 3 caracals...luck was upon me. ..they entered in the bushes yet we could see them, Ranthambhore is a dry area and so you can see the animal in the bushes till quiet a distance, and that’s the beauty of this forest.’

‘They were about 50 meters from the road but walking parallel behind the bushes. Since pictures could not be taken in such circumstance I had lost hope, but we kept walking together, the caracal and the gypsy for the next 200 meters.’

We parked our vehicle in an open place, one cub and the mother started coming close to us. At 20 feet distance they started searching for something in bushes, now the mother sat on one side.

The cub was inquisitive and amused but mother kept looking at the cub with less amusement of course. She kept ignoring us all together.

The cub kept snooping in the direction of the monitor lizard. It finally succeed in searching, and it was a monitor lizard.

The first cub came ahead and curiously kept looking at the kill, it flipped it from one side to another as if playing with it. The cub by now had started tearing the monitor lizard, but as it was thick skinned animal, finally it left the lizard and went and sat away.

The second cub came in. ..

It started tearing open the lizard.. .

After struggling it finally succeded in tearing open through the lizards thick skin.. .

I was getting very inquisitive thinking that they didn’t kill the monitor lizard in front of us then how are they having it? Raees whispered from behind, ‘the mother must have killed it and left, later she went and bought the cubs to the kill.’ That observation is 25 years experience speaking...

By now, the second cub had come in, this cub had one of its ear cut. It managed to tear open the monitor lizard. It took him almost 30 minutes to open the monitor lizard. It ate nearly half of it.

It left the half eaten monitor lizard, the first cub came back but the mother came ahead and she took away the kill and then disappeared in the bushes... the children followed. The whole episode lasted for about 47 minutes, starting from my first picture to last picture...

Jogi said, ‘Bas yaar, now we all are getting very jealous stop now!’ We wanted to hear more, at the same time the similar feelings were wrestling within us so we let it go.

We all looked at Jogi with a question.... Jogi tell us what is the threat for Caracal?

Jogi said, ‘Yaar, like the tiger there is no big threat to the caracal in terms poachers, however it faces just one major issue which is Habitat Destruction’

Radhika asked, ‘Where are caracal found in India?’ Jogi replied, ‘See caracal is found in 4 main places in India; Ranthambhore, Sariska, Kutch and Chambal. All 4 have their own issues, but I will speak just about Ranthambhore.’

Look, Ranthambhore has a corrupt range officer posted since 15 years, who’s expertise lies not in the work but in politics and flattery, which has in due course spoiled the habitat progressively.In these years he managed not to get himself transferred.

Two of his works spoiled the Kachida valley habitat.

A) The first one is negligence in the day to day patrolling due to which Kachida area’s half valley is destroyed because of illegal wood cutting. Hundreds of villagers from Badhlav, Rawal and Ulliana villages come inside the park and cut Dhonk trees. Tourists see this, guides and drivers see this but not the ranger of that area.

Villagers carrying cut tree from the Kachida valley

If informed to the guards they say that they have communicated the same to the ranger, period! They cut 50 year old Dhonk trees in a matter of 15 minutes. Jogi cried with a scream, the tears looked like blood coming out of his soul...

B) The second is equally disturbing, in this year close to kachida in the 3 kilometre area of Kachida valley, 10 anicuts and 6 big talai’s (ponds) are being created. There is sand below it and not clay hence this place is not appropriate. Yes, water will hold there just during the monsoons, but later water will not hold in such a place.

Not just this, for making these anicuts he blasted the areas with heavy commercial machinery creating disturbance in the park!

What are the effects of making these Talai’s:

1) A lot of trees were cut in order to make the talai’s deeper.

Hundreds of trees were cut like this, to make the irrational talai’s and water harvesting structures

2) There is no catchment area so where will the water come from in these talai’s.

The area is dug out but there is no place where water can hold for a long time, they have just made a depression, a pond like structure but no catchment area!

3) The side walls of the dam are higher than required, clearly showing illogical planning and wastage of money.

Look at the elevated side wall and the dam wall in front – this kind of construction is done just to make money

4) There are cracks in the newly constructed talai’s already.

5) For making all these talai’s and water bodies, machinery like JCB (Heavy Excavating machine) were used for months inside the park creating atrocious noise disturbance for park animals.

6) For any kind of construction, road making in the park, etc the planning has to be put up in the ‘park management plan’ prior, and if not mentioned it has to be approved by the Central Empowered Committee (CEC). This was not mentioned in the management plan and no permissions were taken for this construction.

Copy of the supreme court order stating no Construction activity to be done without approvals and prior permissions

Ranthambhore habitat is dry with less rainfall; such is the areas where the caracal lives. However since a few years there are so many water holes being created in the place that due to this the soil below gets wet.

Now if you understand caracal’s food habits, it is mainly dependent upon rodents and other burrow inhabiting animals. These animals move away from the areas and so the prey base for the caracal becomes less.

I stopped jogi and said, arrey now again your activism has come in and the amazing caracal sighting experience has taken back seat! What’s this Jogiji?

Jogi’s face turned red and blazing eyes made me feel he was going to bash me up! He took a deep breath and said, ‘listen, do you think I am an individual from some social photography site like wow watch group, who will just say wowwww’s without caring about who is living and who is dying in what conditions, concerned only with sightings and photography?’

If you want to see this beautiful animal on the planet please send the appeal to the ministry by clicking the following link:

Or copy the letter below and send to the Minister of Environment and Forest – Mr. Jairam Ramesh. Email:

To: Minister of Enviornment and Forest, India (MoEF)

World over, Ranthambhore National Park is famous for its wild tiger’s. This is a dry deciduous fragile eco-system where in the shade of tigers a lot of other animals survive. There are some animals like Indian Caracal, whose charisma is equivalent to that of a wild tiger; but the threat upon them is a lot more than that on the tiger. Today there are 37 tiger reserves in India but there are just 3 prime habitats for Caracal, Kutch (Gujarat), Sariska Tiger Reserve and Ranthambhore National Park. In Ranthambhore, the way in which alterations are being made in the habitat since past two years, it has created a threat to the Caracal species. This alteration is a lot of construction in the park, waterholes, trees cutting for the same, construction of roads...which are not required by the animals residing in the park! This is required by the corrupt officers who minting money with such works.

(For more details read the blog:

In the name of making ‘suitable habitat’ for wild animals massive unwanted construction work has been done in the park.

We appeal to you, Dear Minister, please stop this and replace the insincere, corrupt rangers posted since 15 years in same range, with some good officer.

Best regards,

Nature Lover


  1. I have been following your blog of late and I think it is excellent. Do keep blogging. If you are interested in a photography site which actively supports and allows conservation topics, do email me through my blog.


  2. Maa'm
    kudos to Tiger watch team fr the arrest of Gopal ! then why can't concerted effort be created to oust that corrupted RFO? i saw myself in Kachida lots of constructional activities goin on detrimental fr wildlife!

  3. Hi Divya
    Thanks for the information on the Caracal.

    I have just started wildlife photography seriously, and was planning to visit Gujarat where Caracal (Kutch DIstrict) was an animal i wanted to photograph.

    Good information. Thanks a lot

  4. Caracals are easily domisticated and breed captivitally in many parts of the world, i know of one breeder in Dubai who has atleast 100 Caracls and Servals of his own all healthy and domisticated. I would say if you want these animals to grow in population our Government should allow captivity breeding programs where death is minimised and growth is atleast 80percent. Same with Tigers you will see more quality and quantity in Thailand breeding programs where they are allowed to breed in captivity by private breeders. Our government can monitor on those breeding programs instead of waisting salary on zoo keepers who do nothing but make sure our lovely animals look so poor in health n die.
    Its just my personal experiance seen alover when travelling..

  5. Very informative article. Thanks for sharing!

  6. hmm thanks for the info.. never knew such a beautiful animal existed in seldomly researched..way to go..keep up the good work..

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