The Caracal (Felis caracal)

The Caracal (Felis caracal)

The Caracal (Felis caracal): is a medium-sized wild cat that can run up to 50 miles per hour and capable of leaping into the air and knocking down (10-13) birds at one time. The name caracal is derived from Turkish word “Karakulak” meaning “black ear”. Caracal are very agile and can jump up to 3 metres in the air to catch guinea-fowl and pigeons. The old saying “to put the cat amongst the pigeons” stems from an old middle east practice of putting a caracal in an arena with a flock of pigeons and taking bets how many the caracal can catch once it is released. A caracal’s black, tufted ears gives it a different look from most cats in the wild. Its speed and ability to leap into the air makes it an excellent hunter.

Appearance

A large, rufous-fawn cat with tufted black ears, creamy underbelly with faded orange spots and long legs. The face has exquisite markings and the cat must be regarded as one of the most beautiful cats in the world. The caracal moves with grace and a sense of confident power. It is an expert climber and regularly takes refuge in trees.

Size

From head to tail, the caracal measures 33-48 inches (83-123 centimeters) including their tail. They are known to be the heaviest of the small African cats weighing from 25 to 40 pounds (9.5 to 18 kilograms). Males are generally larger than females.

Habitat

Caracals live in the drier savannah and woodland regions of sub-Saharan Africa and prefer the more scrubby, arid habitats. They will also inhabit evergreen and montane forests but are not found in tropical rainforests.

 Communication

Caracals may purr when content and make a variety of other mews, hisses and growls to express their mood just like other cats. They are usually silent but can cry out like a leopard if needed. In addition to that, they make a “wah-wah” sound when they seem to be uneasy.  Caracals have got scent glands between their toes and face which is used to get a message across. They can sharpen their claws on a tree and mark their territory visually and will scent at the same time! The scent may serve to keep other caracals away or even to indicate a willingness to breed.

Social structure

The social system of the caracal is not well understood. They are primarily solitary or live as mated pairs. Individuals appear to defend territories which they mark with urine.

Behavior

The caracal is the mostly nocturnal, secretive, solitary and an aggressive animal. Due to being hunted as a problem animal by farmers, caracal became even more elusive and thus a sighting of one is very difficult.

Breeding

In most parts of its range, the caracal has no set breeding period and a female may often mate with up to 3 males. The litter size varies between (1-6) kittens, which are born after a gestation period of approximately 78 days. The kittens have a daily weight gain of approximately 12g per day and although they reach maturity at about (16-18) months of age, they are often independent from about 12 months.

Reproduction

Caracals keep to themselves until its time to mate and one of the most unique caracal sounds is a mating call that sounds sort of like a cough. Several male caracals may fight or compete for the attention of one female caracal but eventually, it chooses a male out of the group. After mating, the male leaves the female caracal so she can raise the babies on her own.

Babies

A female caracal carries her babies (Kits) for about 69 to 81 days. She finds an old den or burrow where she can give birth away from the predators and other threats. They can have from 1 to 6 kits but most have just 2 kits and each kit weighs about 7 to 9 ounces at birth. A caracal kit is about the size of a pet hamster and these kits are born with their eyes just like the domesticated kittens. It takes about 6 to 10 days for a kit’s eyes to completely open. They are able to squirm around but can’t see where they are going. These kits start nursing and start eating meat at 10 weeks old. They learn hunting skills from their mother and stay with her until they are about 10 months old. A female caracal only gives birth to one litter per year because it takes almost a year to raise one litter of kits.

Lifespan

The average lifespan for both female and male caracals is 12 years old in the wild however, caracals kept in the zoo can live up to 17 years this is because they are not threatened by predators, receive food on a daily basis and also get medication when they need it. As a caracal ages in the wild, it can become ill from untreated skin infections and infections due to injuries. Just like domestic cats, a caracal can get rabies from other animals and die.

Diet

Caracals are strictly carnivorous and they prey primarily on birds, rodents and small antelopes. Just like most cats, caracals stalk their prey before pouncing on it. In areas of human settlement, these cats sometimes eat poultry. Caracals sometimes store the remains of their prey in the forks of trees or even in dense bushes, later returning for further feeding. They are supremely acrobatic and can leap agilely into the air to bring down prey.

Facts about caracals

  • Caracals are known on occasion to store their kills in trees, in the manner of leopards and this habit is likely to occur in areas with a high density of hyenas.
  • The caracal is the origin of the expression “put the cat among the pigeons”. In ancient India and Iran, trained caracals were released into arenas containing a flock of pigeons. Wagers were then placed on how many birds the cat would take down in a leap.
  • Though sometimes known as the African lynx due to its short tail, tufted ears and long hind legs, the caracal is now thought to be more closely related to the African golden cats and serval cat than to any members of the lynx genus.
  • Caracals are capable of taking small, domestic livestock and thus suffer heavy persecution from farmers. From 1931 to 1952, an average of 2,219 caracals per year were killed in control operations in South Africa’s Karoo.

Where are caracals found?

Caracals live in woodlands, savannahs and in scrub forests but in Uganda, caracals are only found in Kidepo valley national park.

African Leopards (Panthera pardus)

 

 

 

 

African Leopards (Panthera pardus)

African Leopards (Panthera pardus)  : are one of the most feared but respected animals in the world. In Uganda; it is called Ngo (Luganda tribe) also one of the 52 totems of Buganda, Eris (Iteso tribe) and Engwe (Bakonjo tribe). Leopards are big cats known for their golden, spotted bodies and graceful, yet ferocious hunting techniques. In most parts of Africa, there is a belief that leopards sometimes represent the super natural powers and it is not surprising that most African kings have the leopard skin as part of their seats and the logic is that they share in the invincibility of the giant cat.


There is a belief that sometimes leopards represent a spirit (Musambwa) and therefore whenever a leopard is sighted in an area, people are advised to be careful before attacking it. Some of the leopards might be spirits, a traditional healer for example salongo ssentongo in Luwero, Uganda cautions that such leopards neither attack humans nor domestic animals and instead they are harmless and in some parts of Luwero village, there are leopards that are known by the villagers.
In Western Uganda, it is common to hear people curse others: “Death at the hands of a leopard”. The Makanga of Central Africa believes that witch doctors are capable of turning themselves into leopards before hurting their enemies.

Interesting facts about Leopards

  • Leopards are the most successful and cunning among big cats.
  • The Clouded Leopard has the longest canines amongst cat species.
  • Pound for pound, leopards are the strongest among big cats.
  • Leopards are territorial animals and regularly mark and defend their domain against intruders.
  • Leopards don’t need much water. They survive from the moisture they get from eating their prey.
  • Man eating leopards always operate at night since unlike tigers they never lose their fear of man and only enter human territories in the cover of darkness – according to famous hunter turned conservationist Jim Corbett. This makes them very difficult to counteract.

Appearance

Leopards are masters of stealth and extremely difficult to trace and locate in the wild. They are light coloured with distinctive dark spots that are called rosettes because they resemble the shape of a rose. Black Leopards, which appear to be almost solid in colour because their spots are hard to distinguish, are commonly called black panthers.

Diet

Leopards are carnivores, but they aren’t picky eaters. They will prey on any animal that comes across their path, such as Thomson’s gazelles, cheetah cubs, baboons, rodents, monkeys, snakes, large birds, amphibians, fish, antelopes, warthogs and porcupines.

Behavior

The leopard is so strong and comfortable in trees that it often hauls its kills into the branches. Leopards can also hunt from trees, where their spotted coats allow them to blend with the leaves until they spring with a deadly pounce. Leopards are solitary creatures that only spend time with others when they are mating or raising young. They are also nocturnal and spend their nights hunting instead of sleeping.

These nocturnal predators also stalk antelope, deer, and pigs by stealthy movements in the tall grass. When human settlements are present, leopards often attack dogs and occasionally people. Leopards are strong swimmers and very much at home in the water, where they sometimes eat fish or crabs.

Breeding

Female leopards have a gestation period of approximately three months and can typically give birth to a litter of two to three cubs in a den at any time of the year. They usually have two grayish, blind and almost hairless cubs with barely visible spots. Each cub weighs just 17 to 21 ounces (500 to 600 grams) at birth. The mother hides her cubs and moves them from one safe location to the next until they are old enough to begin playing and learning to hunt. At 12 to 18 months, the cubs are ready to live on their own but still live with their mothers for about two years. When they reach 2 or 3 years old the cubs will create their own offspring. Leopards live 12 to 15 years in the wild and up to 23 years in zoos.

Habitat

They have a preference for wooded or rocky habitats unlike cheetahs and thus can be found in virtually all habitats that offer adequate cover being the most common of Africa’s large felines. African Leopards inhabited a wide range of habitats within Africa from mountainous forests to grasslands and savannas that is to say rain forests, woodlands, grassland savannas, forests, mountain habitats, coastal scrubs, shrub lands and swampy areas excluding only extremely sandy desert. Leopards are generally most active between sunset and sunrise and kill more prey at this time.

Where to find them

They are present in most Uganda National parks and forest reserves but can be seen most regularly in every section in Queen Elizabeth National park on the kisenyi plains in the northern part of the park, they can also be sighted in southern part of the park.

The Standard-winged nightjar

The Standard-winged nightjar

The Standard-winged nightjar : (caprimulgus longipennis) is a nocturnal bird and of the more impressive members of the Caprimulgid family. This true nightjar species breeds in dry savannah habitat of central Africa. It is related to other nightjars in terms of breeding strategies, roosting, feeding habits and vocalizations as well. During the breeding season, the male grows highly- specialized wing feathers nearly to a length of 38 cm, primarily of bare shaft with feather plumes on the end. The feathers are used as part of a flight display to attract female. During the dry seasons, from December through March, they are mostly found along the coast from Liberia to western Cameroon as well as southwestern Uganda. Standard winged nightjars also migrate in order to breed in the northern hemisphere and they winter in Africa primarily in the southern and eastern parts or reaches of the continent. During the summers, their population ranges extend from Scandinavia and Siberia in the north through the northern hemisphere. In Uganda the pearl of Africa this bird can easily be sighted in Murchison falls National Park.

Physical description

Caprimulgus longipennis individuals reach lengths of 26 to 28cm with wingspans of 57 to 64cm. Standard base body color of the species is grey to reddish-brown with complex cryptic overlaid markings of white, black and varying shades of brown. The body shape of nightjars is reminiscent of falcons, with long pointed wings and long tails.  The birds have brown irises, brown legs, deep red mouths and bristles ring their bills. The adult males possess white lower throats, often divided into two distinct patches by a grey or orange- brown vertical stripe. Males have black-barred chests and undulating dark scapular lines. Females appear similar however possess tan tail and wing patches or lack contrasting spots all together. The juvenile birds look very similar to the females but are normally paler along with less contrast on the scapulars and bellies.

Fact: Their nocturnal (night) lifestyle reduces the like hood of being detected by daytime predators. During daytime, they typically sleep on the ground where they are perfectly camouflaged by their “earthy” colored plumage.     

Behavior

Standard winged nightjars are not particularly gregarious and live in pairs during the mating seasons and may migrate in groups of 20 or more. Single sex flocks may occur in Africa during the winter season, caprimulgus longipennis individuals are crepuscular and forage in the dark, even sometimes on overcast days.  Male nightjars are territorial and will defend their breeding territories vigorously, fighting other males in the air or on the ground. During the daytime, when the nightjars are at rest, they usually perch facing into the sun, to minimize their contrasting shadow.  Like other nightjars, the standard-winged nightjar feeds on insects in flight, the huge gape opening wide for moths and beetles that usually fly at dusk often at sundown. Towards breeding, no nest is made and the two elongated and elliptical eggs are placed upon the bare ground. Their cryptic appearance blends perfectly into their habitant and during the daytime, they are usually hidden away sleeping and are easily detected at night when light from car headlights are reflected ruby-red from their eyes, as they are sitting on tracks or roads. Their presence is most often made known by their loud calls that given out at dusk. 

Reproduction

The standard winged nightjars are bigamous implying they will take on more than a single mate and they breed between May and September. One male and one female form a bond lasting one year and the pair will raise one or two broods. Occasionally pairs may split, and the female may raise another brood fathered by a different male. Some reports tell of an extra male occasionally aiding a male-female pair in raising young. Nightjars don’t actually construct nests just like how the other bird species do but instead they simply place the eggs on the ground on open soil covered with dead leaves. After establishing his breeding territory, he then attracts the attention of females with an insect-like song and he performs a display flight whereby receptive females will join in.  In a small, unlined scrape on the ground female Standard winged nightjars lay 2 to 4 (mostly two) reddish creamy/ pinkish in color smooth elliptical white eggs marked with brown spots or blotched irregularly. The female then incubates the eggs for 17 to 18 days however her mate will take short shifts while she leaves to feed at dawn and dusk.  Here Females are primary incubators, even though the male may care for the first young alone for a time especially when the female commits to producing a second brood. The hatchlings are covered in down and are capable of short-distance movements within 24 hours of hatching and they normally move apart shortly after hatching, maybe to make it more difficult for predators to spot them however parents also shove them apart with their feet as they flush from the nest and usually the male stands, guards and defends the nest and the young. He will hover in place near the nest with his body in about a vertical position with his tail spread and the adults communicate with their young via soft clucking sounds to which the chicks respond to. Only if conditions are favorable, the female will sometimes lay a second clutch close to the first clutch and while she is incubating the new set of eggs, she leaves her first brood with her mate when the chicks are about 14 days old to rear her second brood. Standard winged nightjars are always mature and ready to breed approximately at the age of one year.

Fact:  If an intruder does get close to the nest, the parents may try to lead them away by first flushing off the nest and when landing feigning injury as they lead the potential threat away from the nest and while the parent performs this distraction display, the young may scatter and freeze.

Communication

Standard winged nightjars use a wide variety of sounds to communicate but with a common one being a titititititit…Vociferous males utter out long “churring” vocalizations from perches within their territories, sometimes calling for 10 minutes continuously. Both males and females produce repeated sharp “qoik-qoik” notes as contact calls. At the nest male and female birds make a grunting “wuff”. When the male approaches the nest, he often produces a burbling trill. Agitated birds hiss and babies beg for food with an insistent “bruh-bruh”. Standard winged nightjars frequently clap their wings together as well as combining acoustic and visual elements of display. This wing clapping probably serves a number of purposes and is a form of communication generally directed to other individuals. Various flight patterns and ground behaviors that are used to distract intimidate, or attract other birds. This species is also notable for feigning injury both in the air and on the ground and for their wing clapping behavior. They open their wings and slap them together behind their backs thus creating a smacking noise. Wing clapping is also used in greeting, intimidation, defense and courtship displays. During courtship, the male bird glides about with his wings in a V-shape, frequently clapping them together. When a female alights on the ground, the male lands facing her and they sway in tandem. When the female ceases swaying, the male bobs up and down, opens his wings and spasms his tail momentarily before the beginning of copulation and once a pair has formed, the two individuals roost together.

Feeding

Standard-winged nightjars are crepuscular and nocturnal insectivores. They catch flying insects in their wide mouths with the aid of short bills and surrounding rectal bristles. Some common prey organisms include moths beetles, mayflies, dragonflies, cockroaches, butterflies and occasionally spiders.