Liz’s dramatic encounter with the caracal came in late afternoon when she was slaving over her computer.
“I heard a thud against our patio sliding doors. The sun blinds were down and thinking that one of the guinea fowl had run into the glass I was taken aback to see a rather bewildered caracal.
“It had obviously attacked its own reflection and took a moment to take stock before moving across the patio. To witness a carnivore species such as this out hunting in an urban space is an exciting event. At close quarters I was able to admire it’s sturdy build and powerful back legs as it padded past. The tufted ears with the long black-haired tassels added to its air of elegance.
“The drawcard for our caracal is the dassie colony: plump prey for the picking. I had a good vantage point to observe the action below and I could hear the dassie sentry emitting highly agitated alarm calls.
“The cat was quick and agile and camouflaged perfectly against the reddish brown of the boulders. It didn’t take long to scent out and catch it’s prey. Once it had pounced, a clean neck bite put the creature out of it’s misery instantly.
“As it returned across the patio carrying one of our dassie family, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad for the loss to the colony, but at the same time admired the skill of the hunter.”
Residents of the Cape Peninsula have spotted this elusive cat in diverse areas, but there is no accurate data on their numbers or distribution. So it is heartening to follow the work being done by the Animal Demographic Unit (ADU) at the University of Cape Town with The Nature Conservation Corporation (NCC) and their use of trap cameras.
Members of the public can help by sending photographs and reporting sightings to add to data for the Cape Peninsula Mammal Atlas Project. This data of all mammals is stored in a “virtual museum” hosted by the ADU which contributes towards a better understanding and conservation of all the mammal species.
Research upcountry in the Cedarberg area, where caracals are tracked with GPS collars, is helping to learn much about this secretive animal’s spatial as well as behavioural ecology.
In the past the caracal was much maligned for raiding farmlands, especially after a couple of incidents when a pair went into killing frenzy and slaughtered dozens of sheep but ate off only one. Research shows their prey is more often wild creatures, including real pests like mice and rats.
We saw the caracal several more times in full daylight in our seashore wilderness. He was in no hurry and quite unworried by the presence of humans as he walked expertly across the tumbled rocks
I say “he” but the last time there was no doubt about the gender. She came strolling from the left again, where there is a dense growth of bush that could well hide a den, on to the lawn at a leisurely pace, looking straight ahead.
On either side of her, level with her flanks, walked two kittens about a third of her size, the same tawny russet colour, miniatures of mom.
Again she slowed when she passed us, glanced up and moved on. The kittens kept station but looked back over their shoulders at these strange long creatures gazing down at them.
It was a magic moment, one to be treasured, a rarity in any lifetime not just an urban one.
There were other sightings in the neighbourhood around the same time of a female with two kittens. The dassie population that year was on high alert and our colony decreased from fifteen adults to seven.
One neighbour living up the mountain reported finding the remains of a grysbok, a small buck, stashed in the branches of a low tree, a practice common to only the leopard and the caracal.