By Christof Schoeman
It was late in the afternoon in the Manyeleti, and we had just stopped for a sundowner at dusk when a sighting of caracal was reported over the radio in the central north of the reserve.
My heart skipped a beat!
Whenever these rare cats are announced over the radio, the first thing that occurs to me is that caracals are extremely skittish and shy; often giving you only a moment of their time before disappearing like a ghost. Would we be there in time to get there and see it?
Caracals are generally nocturnal animals, living solitary lives as they hunt in the dead of night. They are fast and agile animals, and when they hunt, they can jump up to 3 metres in the air to catch a guinea-fowl or pigeon.
Unlike the other small African cats, caracals will not hesitate to kill prey larger than themselves such as adult springbok or young Kudu. They are also known to be picky eaters and discard the internal organs of any mammals that they catch; and pluck the fur from their larger catches. Caracals have also been reported on occasion (although this is an exception rather than a rule) to store their kills in trees, as do the leopards.
But sighting of these elusive animals are rare. Their grass-coloured fur covers their presence and blends in with the bush.
According the ranger on the scene, they were very relaxed and viewable! We packed up the sundowner and headed straight for the holy grail of cats!
After a quick bumble through the dusk, we arrived on the scene and there she was!
This one was an adult female with her sub-adult cub, which in fact is even more impossible in terms of finding a caracal in the wild!
As we watched her stalk through the scrub, every movement of the animal seemed to be intentional, her ears and eyes reacting to every little sound. Caracals have an excellent sense of hearing: 20 muscles move ears in various directions and adjust their position to collect even the slightest sound of the prey.
It was so special to sit with the animal for a few moments before it slipped away into the darkness, a sighting that we will all certainly remember and cherish. If you have the chance of actually viewing a caracal for more than five minutes, especially in the wild, it will undoubtedly a once in a lifetime experience!
And if you don’t, watch the video below to get a taste of what we saw: