The Elusive Caracal | Wildlife Safaris with Madikwe Hills | Blog Menu

The Caracal

By Madikwe Hills on November 30, 2023
Unveiling the secrets of South Africa's most elusive cat

Located near the border of Botswana in Madikwe Game Reserve, Madikwe Hills Private Game Reserve is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts seeking rare encounters with South Africa’s elusive creatures. Among these, the caracal, a secretive and majestic feline, captures the imagination.

Join us on a journey deep into the wilderness as we unveil the secrets of this elusive wild cat.

The Stealthy Stalker

The caracal, scientifically known as Caracal caracal, is a medium-sized wild cat characterized by its distinctive tufted ears and sleek, tawny coat. Aptly nicknamed the “rooikat” or “red cat” in Afrikaans, this solitary hunter roams the savannas, grasslands, and scrublands of South Africa and can be seen on safari in Madikwe Game Reserve.


Habitat and Behaviour

The caracal’s habitat spans a range of ecosystems, from semi-deserts to forests. Known for its adaptability, the caracal is a master of stealth, navigating the terrain with unparalleled agility. They typically use abandoned aardvark or porcupine burrows and rock crevices for maternal dens, but can be found with their young in dense vegetation.

Like most cats, they are primarily solitary and mostly avoid humans. They may form pairs during mating or small mother-offspring groups during rearing of young. Females average one litter per year and give birth to one to four kittens.

Adult males patrol territories which they mark with urine and scats, and defend against other adult males.. Despite their elusive nature, keen-eyed observers may catch glimpses of these cats during dawn or dusk when they are most active.

Dietary Preferences

Caracals are opportunistic predators, preying on a variety of small to medium-sized animals. Their diet includes birds, rodents, and even the occasional small antelope. With powerful hind legs, they are renowned for their exceptional leaping ability, enabling them to catch birds in mid-air.They may prey on birds ranging from doves, guinea fowl and francolin, up to kori bustards and eagles.

Caracals, like many wild cats, are ambush predators.Silently stalking their prey, caracals approach with utmost stealth before executing a direct pounce, leap, or short run to secure their target. These felines are renowned for their acrobatic prowess, employing agile leaping and climbing skills to capture hyraxes nestled among rocks and birds soaring through the air. When dealing with smaller prey, the caracal’s elongated canines effortlessly penetrate to the prey’s spine. However, when tackling larger prey such as antelope, the caracal strategically targets the throat, recognizing the effectiveness of this approach due to the thicker skin and muscle protection.

Interestingly, caracals will intentionally pluck the feathers from a bird it has caught or partially pluck the fur from a rock hyrax before eating them.


Conservation Status:

While the caracal is not currently listed as endangered, it faces threats such as habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict. Conservation efforts within game reserves like Madikwe Hills are crucial for ensuring the continued existence of these fascinating felines in the wild.

Fun facts about caracals:

  • The caracal, often dubbed a ‘desert lynx’ due to its similar ear tufts and short tail, holds a distinct identity and is not closely related to the lynxes found in the northern hemisphere.
  • The term “caracal” is derived from the Turkish name ‘Karakulak,’ translating to ‘black ear.’
  • In ancient Egypt, caracals were depicted in wall paintings and bronze sculptures, portrayed as elegant hieratic figures sitting upright or serving as guardians of tombs. Egyptians even practiced the embalming of caracal bodies, placing them in tombs.
  • In Persia and India, caracals were skillfully trained for bird hunting, showcasing their versatility in capturing hares, foxes, and small antelope.

Below is the most recent sighting of a caracal captured on a night drive at Madikwe Hills.

Caracal encounters at Madikwe Hills

Guests at Madikwe Hills Private Game Reserve may be fortunate enough to witness the grace and beauty of caracals during game drives. Our expert guides, with their wealth of knowledge, enhance the experience by providing insights into the behavior and ecology of these elusive cats.

Ready to embark on a wilderness safari to see the free-roaming caracal of Madikwe? Contact our helpful reservations team with enquiries at If you’re already sold, go to our online booking platform and secure the dates for your next South African wildlife safari today.

We look forward to welcoming you !

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *