Caracal Physical Characteristics
The Caracal is the largest of Africa's smaller cats, weighing between 11 and 20 kgs, and is classed as a 'medium-sized' cat. Males are about 25% larger than the females.
The African Caracal is robustly built and is the most powerful of the small cats. Its hindquarters are slightly higher than its shoulders as the hind legs are longer than the front legs. The tail is short relative to its body length.
The plain coat of the Caracal cat is thick but short and soft. The colour varies from yellowish-brown, pale reddish to a rich brick-red, grey or sand-coloured. The underparts are off-white with faint spotting or blotching. Caracals are one of the few cat species that don't have any spots or stripes. Melanistic (black) Caracals also occur.
Caracal Facial Characteristics
The Caracal's face has striking black and white markings around the eyes and mouth, with white under the chin.
One of the most prominent features of the Carcal cat are its ears. These cats have large, pointed ears with tufts of long black hair at the tip. The backs of the ears are black, liberally sprinkled with white hairs.
Although ear tufts are traits of lynxes, and the Caracal is often referred to as a lynx, it is not closely related to the true lynxes of Europe and North America.
When catching a glimpse of wildlife in the bush it is often difficult to identify an animal, especially if lighting is poor, or you do not see the full animal. Here are some pointers to help you confirm whether what you saw was a Caracal cat.
Overall Caracals are about the size of a medium sized dog and have a plain coat. The only other wild cats in Africa with plain coats are Lions and African Golden Cats. However, Lions tend to be paler in colour and even though a juvenile Lion would be the height of an adult Caracal at some point in its early life, its overall appearance would be far more robust. The clues to look for are the tail and the ears - the Caracal's ears are large and triangular with long tufts and a Lion's ears are small and rounded. Lion tails are long and thin with a black tuft on the end, whereas a Caracal has a short, thicker tail, with no tuft.
African Golden Cats can look very similar to Caracals in size and appearance, except again for the ears. However, these species occur in totally different habitats and their ranges do not overlap. The African Golden Cat is very secretive, lives in the forests of Central Africa and is rarely seen, whereas Caracals occur more widely across Africa, predominately in open savannah.