Caracals are an amazing member of the wild cat family. Although they are not as threatened as other members of the cat family, alarming news has come from the South African portion of their range- Capetown caracals have levels of toxins in their blood.
According to The Conversation the majority of the toxins are metals such as aluminum. The metals most likely enter the caracal’s blood from the food they eat. This is a red flag for humans, too, as these metals can enter our food chain as well.
South Africa is urbanizing rapidly and the extinction or displacement of other predators has left the caracal as the apex predator in the region – and thus in ever increasing proximity to human urban development. Conservationists believe urbanization is the number one threat to wildlife worldwide.
Fast and nocturnal caracals (Caracal caracal) are about 18 inches tall and 30 inches long, with a 10 inch tail. They eat birds and small mammals and even some deer. They weigh up to 40 pounds. They resemble lynxes but have longer ears and a solid brown coat. They are more closely related to servals than lynxes.
The troubling news comes from the Urban Caracal Project which is based in the University of Capetown. The project has international collaborators Including the University of California at Santa Cruz and Los Angeles.
The project is trying to asses the distribution and health of the Capetown caracals which live in the Cape Peninsula. Researchers are looking into the effect of urbanization on the local caracals. Urbanization is the principal ecological threat worldwide. They are also looking beyond the cape population to the rest of South Africa and Africa. Determining the risk to the cats is a major focus of the research.
The project is primarily focused on South Africa, but the research team is world wide. Robert Wayne of UCLA is listed as a key collaborator. Wayne is an evolutionary biologist and geneticist. He is known for examining genomes of dogs and wolves.
Toxic metals are not the only threat to wild cats. As they come into closer contact with people they are exposed to other threats including traffic. Pesticides also severely impact bobcats and mountain lions in California and other urban areas.