Caracal: The Covert Cat of Central India
The caracal wild cat (Caracal caracal) is a rare species in India. In Madhya Pradesh it is locally called as Shea-gosh or siyah-gush, The black tufted ears of this cat are one of its most distinguishing features. In Kutch dialect of Gujarat Caracals are locally referred to as Hornotro which means killer of a Blackbuck whereas in Rajasthan it is known as Junglee Bilao or Wildcat.
Caracals are slender, medium-sized cats with long powerful legs and tufted ears. The sub-species Caracal caracal schmitzi is found in India and this sub-species are presumed to be distributed from Arabia to Central India. Indian Caracals can weigh between five and eighteen kilograms, having a sleek mid-section and a short tail. Caracals have a gestation period of 10-11 weeks and the average litter size is three kittens. The average life span of a caracal in the wild is around twelve years and seventeen in captivity. Caracals have consistent reddish and sandy coloured outer coat without any pattern. Young caracals are slightly paler in colour than the adults. The long tufts are the sensitive hair on the ears that help them detect vibrations. These cats are expert in catching birds by leaping high into the air and their prey varies from rodents, hares, birds, reptiles to small antelopes such as Chinkara.
In India Caracals are mostly found in the tropical dry deciduous and tropical thorn and shrub forests of Central and Western India. A recent study in 2016 concluded that caracals have most likely become extinct in Madhya Pradesh. These cats are seen occasionally in Rajasthan and Gujarat states though not common in either of the states.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the Caracal as “least concern” but in India they are “endangered”. Caracals had appeared in Indian paintings dating back to seventeenth century. But today their survival in India is endangered primary reasons being the rapid loss of scrub and thorn habitat and unchecked human activates in the caracals habitat. This species is most likely to go extinct in India even before we have a chance to know much about it. The cat has so much to offer in the study of natural history research. These secretive cats are rare and elusive and there are so many secrets about them that are yet to be revealed.
Courtesy : Malvika Verma
Photo Credit – Babbette and Anton, used with permission of Shekhar kolipaka