Caracal cats, also known as the Persian lynx or African lynx, are mesmerizing animals. While many have not even heard of them, those that have will remember them forever. Their trademark giant ears and long, lean bodies make them very distinctive large cats, and their ability to leap high up into the air, and pluck birds from the sky, gives them an almost mythical hold over the imaginations of the world’s more daring pet-owners.
Its name harks from the Turkish word karakalak, which means ‘black ear’: kara = black, kalak = ear. It’s not difficult to imagine why this part of the caracal succeeded in being its namesake; the caracal’s black ears are its most identifiable feature. The Turkish connection is the Caspian Sea coast, an area which throughout large parts of history has spoken Turkish, or languages similar to Turkish.
The caracal is native to the deserts and savannahs of this very coast, as well as the Arabian Peninsula, Central Asia and parts of Africa. While it may purr when content, and communicate with a range of meows, growls and hisses much like a domesticated house cat, this carnivorous predator is a fierce hunter, capable of taking down animals much larger than itself – for example, springboks nearly a meter tall.
Can you have a caracal as a pet? – Caracal kittens are unique and cute, but there are many factors to consider. Yes, there are owners who have domesticated these cats. However, it is not without a huge commitment of time, money and energy. Would you try to keep a hyena as a pet? It is a similar sort of question. Perhaps there are those of you who would – well, there are some very important things you should know. So, read on!
If, by the time you’ve perused this article, you’re still hungry for more information, a quick online search should pull up some more sites. If you’re still in doubt, I suggest you contact an expert!
#1 Caracal cat habitat:
Where are caracal cats from?
Caracals are native to large swathes of dry, desert land. Over the years, they have found home in Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and even parts of India. As far as caracals are concerned, the drier the better. Well, not exactly, but they have evolved to subsist on very little water.
One such country that the caracal calls home is the kingdom of Lesotho, which it shares with a handful of other big cats, including the Transvaal lion, the African leopard, and the South African cheetah. While it may not have the grandest reputation among its other feline companions/competitors, the caracal certainly takes the biscuit for cutest cat in Lesotho… and maybe the world.
As they are solitary animals, caracals are typically found alone, though may be spotted in mating pairs. Other caracal guides state that caracals are diurnal, but they are in fact mostly nocturnal, meaning they are mostly active at night. For this reason, they can be difficult to observe in the wild.
Caracals come in a variety of hues and colorations, from pale beige to bright orange-brown, sometimes even red, as befits each caracal community’s habitat. For example, those whose region of origin is covered in pale brown sand will exhibit fur of a similar – evolution at its finest. And that’s beside the ears!
Caracal cat housing as pets
In order to meet their requirements as animals, you must ensure your pet caracal has a large outdoor area in which to roam, sneak and play – several acres ideally. This area should be high-fenced, and secure. One good example is this large outdoor catio for them to climb and play.
If you rear a caracal from a very young age, it will probably be tame enough not to wreak havoc on your indoor furniture. It will still relish the opportunity to swat birds from low skies and tree branches, but there are examples of well-socialized caracals that interact positively with humans, even strangers.
However, it is ill-advised to house in captivity a caracal which has previously lived in a cage. Such animals require very forgiving captive environments, and are unlikely to adjust well. Caracals lack a homing instinct, so will not return if they get out of their enclosure.
For this reason, it is recommended to construct a roofed enclosure like this outdoor cat house. Obviously, installing a roof over several acres of grassland is a giant operation for a private pet owner to undertake, but a scared caracal on the loose could cause a lot of damage to unsuspecting livestock, and neighbours.
#2 Caracal cat size and weight:
How big can a caracal kitten grow?
Many of those who fantasize about owning a caracal cat are fixated predominantly on the earlier stages of caracal development. Basically, everyone loves the look of a caracal kitten. And who wouldn’t? You just can’t help it. Caracal kittens are adorable, and quirky.
But eventually that kitten is going to grow into a cat – a large cat, at that. Fully grown caracals can be as heavy as 50 lbs, though most males don’t reach more than 40 lbs, and females 30 lbs. Adults can grow up to 32 inches in length, and stand at 21 inches at the shoulder. They also require 2 to 3 lbs of meat a day.
Mostly, wild caracals sustain themselves on small mammals, such as rodents, and birds, which they catch out of the sky (or out of a tree). However, their capacity for taking on much larger prey should be a warning to anyone seeking to tame one. If a cat can take on a springbok, it can take on its owner.
It is a medium-sized wild cat with a robust build and shares heritage with lynxes and other wildcats. Caracals are excellent, finely tuned territorial predators with an incredible capacity to leap into the air. Let that be known before taking the plunge into owning this exotic animal!
When does it stop being a kitten?
Caracals, both male and female, become sexually mature at 7-10 months, though won’t successfully copulate until 14 to 15 months of age. Once ready, they breed throughout the year – another great survival mechanism. The gestation period for a caracal lasts 2-3 months, and results in a litter of 1-6 kittens.
In the wild, juvenile caracals leave their mothers at the age of 9-10 months. Some females stay back with their mothers, but most caracals fend for themselves before they are a year old. By this time, they are not far off fully grown, and know how to take care of themselves.
#3 Caracal Lifespan as pets:
What is the lifespan of a caracal?
The average lifespan of captive caracals is nearly 16 years, while the maximum captive longevity reported was just over 20 years, for a wild-born female raised in a captive environment. Wild caracals tend to live to about 12 years. This is in line with various other types of wild cat, such as Canada lynxes and wildcats, slightly longer than cougars, and slightly shorter than servals.
#4 Caracal cat behavior:
While mating, caracals will be seen in pairs, but caracals are mostly solitary, and hunt for prey independent of each other. They are excellent tree climbers, a skill which allows them to sneak up on unwitting birds and snatch them from their perches or nests. They are also proficient diggers. Burrows serve as dugouts for kittens to grow up in. Caracal kittens spend most of their time in these underground shelters until they are large enough to live independently.
Caracals have been tamed and used for hunting since the time of ancient Egypt. But this is ‘tamed’ in the loosest sense: this does not mean they are evolutionarily wired to be domesticated. The vast majority lives in the wild, and hunts for its prey.
Are caracals dangerous?
Caracals can run at 50mph, outrunning such animals as antelopes and ostriches. They are also territorial and primarily nocturnal. They are skilled, tenacious climbers, and able diggers, with the ability to fend off predators twice their size. All of this means that you do not want to get on the wrong side of a caracal.
Can they be handled?
In theory, yes, they can be handled at a young age, and potentially as adults. They can be well-mannered, with traditional cat-like attitudes: i.e., they play and interact on their own terms. You cannot initiate affection at any moment. When they do play, they can be destructive and rambunctious.
Do caracals attack humans?
Caracals are notorious for attacking livestock, but rarely attack humans. Many people argue that caracals can be cared for in a manner similar to traditional domesticated house cats, with regular levels of safety and affection. But it cannot be ruled out.
What does a caracal cat sound like?
Caracals communicate with a range of hisses, spits, growls and meows, much as regular house cats do. They also communicate tactilely, by sparring and huddling with each other. Mates are attracted through olfactory cues, or pheromones, which trigger hormonal changes.
Why do caracals hiss?
Hissing may strike you as an exclusively aggressive behavior. But among caracals hissing is a regular mode of communication.
How good is a caracal’s hearing?
A caracal’s ears, or super-sensitive parabolic sound antennas, are controlled by 20 different muscles. Their tufts are thought to enhance their hearing by funneling sound waves into their ears.
How fast is a caracal cat?
Caracals can run up to 50mph.
How high can a caracal cat jump?
Caracals can jump 12 ft into the air, owing to their powerful hindquarters! Legend has it, they can knock as many as 10 birds out of the air in one swipe.
#5 Caracal cat diet:
What do they eat?
Caracals, like many other felines, are strictly carnivorous. The bulk of the caracal’s diet comprises hares, rodents, small monkeys, hyraxes, antelopes and birds – doves and partridges, in particular. Larger mammals which fall under the caracal’s claw include mountain gazelles, gerenuks, mountain reedbucks and Kori bustards, as well as the aforementioned springboks.
Geography accounts for a lot of the variation: African caracals may eat larger animals, while Asians may eat more rodents. Across the board, they are known for leaving no waste, often storing leftovers in trees and bushes.
Caracals can live with very little water, a trait they owe to their ancestors. Those living in more arid climes will extend their territorial range to include a freshwater source, such as a river or oasis.
#6 Legal issues:
Is it legal to own a caracal kitten in the United States?
There is no short answer to this, as it falls under state law, not federal law.
States with a comprehensive ban on keeping large exotic cats include California, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, New Jersey, South Carolina and Georgia.
States with no ban include Nevada, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Alabama.
Exemptions, partial bans and licensure schemes with various requirements and levels of enforcement exist in a total of 35 states.
Here is a helpful map of the United States, with the varying levels of legality illustrated, and links to all individual states.
Map source: Big Cat Rescue
#7 Caracal cat cost:
How much would it cost to buy a caracal kitten?
According to Big Cat Rescue, most mid-size cats, like servals and caracals, cost $1700 to $2800.
Is it as simple as that?
No. Caracals need to be declawed before they are legal to keep as pets. They are also only cute cuddly cubs for so long. Soon enough, they will be over a meter long, and spraying.
You will need to bring a veterinarian on board who is willing to take care of your wild cat. Startup costs also include a stainless steel squeeze cage, starting from $1,250, and you will have to arrange for annual vaccinations, check-ups and so on, possibly a van to transport the cage, enough land to comply with state regulations, and a large, secure room in which to house your cat.
Recurring costs include 2-3 lbs of fresh meat per day and necessary vitamins, annual shots, veterinary bills, vaccinations, worming, licenses and permits… the list goes on.
Also, bear in mind that 98% of exotic animals bought as pets die in their first 2 years in captivity.
If you think that all of this is for you, and if you are willing to all future vacations, then fair enough. Move on to the next step!
Do caracal kittens make good pets?
In the name of neutrality, it is important to state that there are some exotic cat owners who successfully, and happily, keep caracals as pets. However, they are relatively few and far between, and have made huge sacrifices in order to house these majestic animals. They cannot take vacations, as their pets require constant maintenance and cannot be left in the care of anyone without a license.
The cats themselves also make sacrifices, though unwillingly: they must be declawed, and typically live in an area a mere fraction of the size of a regular caracal territory. Caracals are also not endangered, so there is no benefit, to the species itself, of members living in captivity.
At the same time, they are magnificent creatures and must make their captive owners very happy. I’m sure they make excellent pets, for those who are willing to invest the proper amount of money, time, energy and care into animal husbandry. For the rest of us, I imagine a regular house cat will do!
Would you have a caracal cat as a pet? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!