On Saturday I had a chance encounter with three lovely angels. Three wild; caramel coloured; woolly; orphaned caracal kittens of about 4-5 weeks old popped into my life. Their location will remain a secret, as this announcement will most likely not be popular with farmers.
The word caracal is derived from the Turkish words kara kulak, which means, “black ear”.The caracal is the largest African lesser cat and an exceptional climber and jumper. It is slender with long legs and a short, sharply tapered tail. The Caracal resembles a cross between a leopard and a lynx. Its coat is reddish-brown with long and very distinctive tufted ears and white markings around its eyes and on its throat, chin, and belly.In South Africa the caracal is often named (Afrikaans) Rooikat- translated to red cat. The belly and the undersides of the legs and chest are whitish and spotted or blotched with pale markings. The tufted ears are black-backed. The skull is high and rounded. The jaw is short, stoutly built and equipped with large powerful teeth.I have called the caracal a desert lynx as it is sometimes referred to as that having been classified variously with Lynx and Felis in the past. However, evidence supports a monophyletic genus that is closely allied with the African golden cat and serval.
The caracal is wide-spread and is a non-endangered species according to the IUCN. Caracals are mostly killed by farmers who argue that they experience massive and unaffordable livestock losses from caracal on their farms. The landmark foundation www.landmarkfoundation.org argues that there are many other causes for such losses- such as disease; exposure; mis-mothering; birth problems and defects and predation is for the main part – not the actual cause. After many years of intense and brutal human-wildlife conflict and the widespread killing of so called “problem” animals – or “pests” such as caracal- the problem has worsened rather than being relieved. It seems clear that indiscriminate lethal control is ineffective and even counter-productive.I spoke with Jurg Olsen of Jukani in the Crags near Plettenberg Bay about the indiscriminate killing of caracal and he explained to me that if a farmer kills a caracal then other cats would come into the area to take its place. If one or two caracal are left on a farm then they will keep others off, as they are territorial. So what could a farmer then do to protect young livestock? The landmark foundation has run a comparative trial with over 16 000 stock units in the Baviaaanskloof area and showed a 56-97% reduction is livestock losses using non-lethal management methods. These methods included the introduction of livestock guarding dogs (Anatolian Mountain Dogs); protective livestock collars and adaptive grazing management. The running costs of non-lethal methods were also less than that of lethal control methods. As the 3 three kittens that caused this blog snuggle into my lap after a milky meal- I find myself wondering who could shoot such an beautiful animal. Also- more interestingly- why would a farmer choose to do so if he knows that they will just be replaced by more that he has to shoot again. Is it possible that farmers don’t know this will happen? Surely young farmers are taught this by their fathers or at agricultural college. I find myself sad for these wee bundles of fur- life without a mother- and especially saddened when I read on the Internet that they usually stay with their mums for a year after birth.
It appears that a holistic approach with a dynamic management plan is a better option than shoot to kill with all its ripple consequences? We have a responsibility and duty of care to treat all living creatures in ethical ways. We cannot continue in the “old ”ways of killing – look where it has left us: with multiple species extinction looming.My son Finn (4) also showed surprising knowledge- picking up the kitten by the scruff of the neck- neither Ryan nor I have ever showed him how to do this. Amazing: is it an innate skill?
More on Anatolian Mountain dogs in another blog- I am looking for a farmer who owns them and a magazine that may be interested on an article about this controversial topic. If you know of one or the other- inbox me on firstname.lastname@example.org!Let me return to my three bundles of lynx loveliness that will soon have teeth and claws to match their ears! Here is a small album with some other pictures of their supreme gorgeous-nesses. I hope to get more in about 2 weeks time when their ears are longer!
11 November 2013