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Small Cats

Caracal

Scientific Name: Felis caracal
Family group: Felidae
Age: 12 years
Average shoulder height: .45m (18”)
Average mass: 17 kg  (37 lb)
Habitat : Found in fairly arid areas, but also in thickets and riverine forests in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. The presence of prey is important. Independent of water.
Diet: Predator feeding on birds, reptiles, small mammals, sheep and goats. Can even overwhelm medium-sized antelope. Breeding: 3 months, with an average litter of three young.
Vocalization: High-pitched bird-like call.  It has longer legs and a slimmer appearance than a European lynx. The colour of the fur is variable: it may be wine-red, grey or sand-coloured. Melanistic (black) Caracals also occur. Young Caracals bear reddish spots on the underside; adults do not have markings except for black spots above the eyes. The most conspicuous feature of the Caracal is elongated, tufted black ears, which also explain the origin of its name – karakulak, Turkish for “black ear”. Its ears, which it uses to locate prey, are controlled by 20 different muscles. It hunts at night (but in colder seasons also in the daytime) for rodents and hares; rarely it may even attack a gazelle, a small antelope or a young ostrich. It is a picky eater, and discards the internal organs of the mammals it catches, partially plucks the fur off hyraxes and larger kills, and avoids eating hair by shearing meat neatly from the skin. However, it will eat the feathers of small birds and is tolerant of rotten meat. It is most well-known for its skill at hunting birds; the Caracal is able to snatch a bird in flight, sometimes more than one at a time. The Caracal can jump and climb exceptionally well, which enables it to catch hyraxes better than probably any other carnivore. Since it is also surprisingly easy to tame, it has been used as a hunting cat in Iran and India. Because it is so easily tamed, the Caracal is sometimes kept as a pet, and is said to adapt easily to living with humans. It is often viewed as vermin by farmers in Africa because it frequently climbs over fences to eat chickens and other poultry. The Caracal is almost impossible to see in the wild, not because there are very few of them, but because it hides extremely well. Game drives in countries such as Kenya and Botswana widely encounter other animals, but a sighting of a Caracal is extremely rare. 

Serval

Scientific Name: Felis serval
Family group: Felidae
Age: 12 years
Average shoulder height: .60m (24”)
Average mass: 14 kg  (31 lb)
Habitat : Found in fairly arid areas, but avoids thickets and riverine forests. Prefers more open woodland and plains as a result of its hunting methods. The presence of prey is important. Independent of water.
Diet: Predator feeding on birds and small mammals.
Breeding: 3 months, with an average litter of three young.
Vocalization: Growls and spats.  It is a slender animal, with long legs and a fairly short tail. The tall, oval ears are set close together. The pattern of the fur is variable. Usually, the Serval is boldly spotted black on tawny. The “servaline” form has much smaller, freckled spots. In addition, melanism is known to exist in this species, giving a similar appearance to the black panther. White servals are white with silvery grey spots and have only occurred in captivity. Its main habitat is the savanna, although melanistic individuals are more usually found in mountainous areas. The Serval needs watercourses within its territory, so it does not live in semi-deserts or dry steppes. It is able to climb and swim, but seldom does so. It has now dwindled in numbers due to human population taking over its habitat and also hunting its pelt. It is protected in most countries. The Serval is listed in CITES Appendix 2, indicating that it is “not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled.” Although the Serval is highly specialised for catching rodents, it is an opportunistic predator whose diet also includes hares, hyraxes, birds, reptiles, insects, fish, and frogs. The Serval has been observed taking larger animals, such as small antelopes, but over 90% of the Serval’s prey weighs less than 200g (7 oz). The Serval eats very quickly, and if its food is big enough, it sometimes eats too quickly, causing it to regurgitate the food because of clogging in the throat. As part of its adaptations for hunting in the savannhas, the Serval boasts long legs (the longest of all cats, relative to body size) and large ears. The long legs and neck allow the Serval to see over tall grasses, while its ears are used to detect prey, even those burrowing underground. While hunting, the Serval will pause for up to 15 minutes at a time to listen with eyes closed. The Serval’s pounce is a distinctive vertical ‘hop’, which may be an adaptation for catching flushed birds. The Serval is a highly efficient hunter, catching prey on as many as 50% of attempts, compared to around one of ten for most species of cat. The Serval has been known to dig into burrows in search of underground prey. 

Cheetah

Scientific Name: Acinonyx jubatus
Family group: Felidae
Age: 12 years
Average shoulder height: .86 m
Average mass: from 40 to 65 kg
Habitat: A savannah species. Found in fairly arid areas, but avoids thickets and reverine forests. Prefers more open woodland and plains suited to its hunting methods. The presence of prey is important.
Diet: Carnivore eating ostriches, impala, springbok and other small antelopes, calves of larger antelope, ground-living birds e.g. korhaan and guinea-fowl; also hares and porcupines. Independent of water.
Breeding: One to five youngs born at any time during the year after a gestation period of +/- 3 months. Female has 5-6 pairs of breast and abdominal mammae.
Vocalization: High-pitched bird-like call.  The cheetah’s chest is deep and its waist is narrow. The coarse, short fur of the cheetah is tan with round black spots measuring from 2 to 3 cm (0.79 to 1.2 in) across, affording it some camouflage while hunting. There are no spots on its white underside, but the tail has spots, which merge to form four to six dark rings at the end. The tail usually ends in a bushy white tuft. The cheetah has a small head with high-set eyes. Black “tear marks” run from the corner of its eyes down the sides of the nose to its mouth to keep sunlight out of its eyes and to aid in hunting and seeing long distances. Some cheetahs also have a rare fur pattern mutation: cheetahs with larger, blotchy, merged spots are known as ‘king cheetahs’. It was once thought to be a separate subspecies, but it is merely a mutation of the African cheetah. The ‘king cheetah’ has only been seen in the wild a handful of times, but it has been bred in captivity. The cheetah’s paws have semi-retractable claws (known only in three other cat species – the Fishing Cat, the Flat-headed Cat and the Iriomote Cat) offering the cat extra grip in its high-speed pursuits. The cheetah hunts by vision rather than by scent. Prey is stalked to within 10–30 m (33–98 ft), then chased. This is usually over in less than a minute, and if the cheetah fails to make a catch quickly, it will give up. The cheetah has an average hunting success rate of around 50% – half of its chases result in failure. Running at speeds up to 112 km/h (70 mph) puts a great deal of strain on the cheetah’s body. When sprinting, the cheetah’s body temperature becomes so high that it would be deadly to continue – this is why the cheetah is often seen resting after it has caught its prey. If it is a hard chase, it sometimes needs to rest for half an hour or more. The cheetah kills its prey by tripping it during the chase, then biting it on the underside of the throat to suffocate it, for the cheetah is not strong enough to break the necks of the four-legged prey it mainly hunts. The bite may also puncture a vital artery in the neck. Then the cheetah proceeds to devour its catch as quickly as possible before the kill is taken by stronger predators.

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