There are neary 40 cat species in the world today. India is of major consequence in feline conservation. More than one-third (15 to be exact) of wild cat species call India home. For comparison, the African continent has 10. Caracal conservation is now in the Indian spotlight.
Caracals (Caracal caracal) are perhaps the rarest of the 15 cats in India, excepting the Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus). Cheetahs are the focus of an ambitious re-introduction program.
Caracal conservation is perhaps a by-product of Project Cheetah as the reintroduction of that species is known. Although the two cats ae very different, they inhabited similar kinds of territory in the past. Now researchers are identifying the most suitable habitat in the nation for focusing effort. India began serious conservation of the big cats in 1973 with Project Tiger. Bengal tigers (Panthera tigris) were threatened with extinction. Their numbers have increased over the decades and the project is considered a success.
Now it is the caracal’s turn:
According to Down to Earth:
“The researchers found the most significant potential habitat for caracals in Rajasthan, with an area of 25,221.38 square kilometers, followed by Gujarat (16,652.1 sq km), Madhya Pradesh (6416.01 sq km), Haryana (191.36 sq km), Uttar Pradesh (131.11 sq km), and Maharashtra (34.17 sq km).
The most suitable areas for caracals on the district level were found to be in the Kutch district of Gujarat; Sheopur, Morena, and Shivpuri of Madhya Pradesh and Sirohi, Jalore, Alwar, Karauli, Sawai Madhopur, Kota, Dhaulpur, Bundi, Baran, Jaipur, Tonk and Dausa of Rajasthan.
The most suitable habitat for caracals in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh is located in Kutch, the Malwa Plateau, the Aravalli hill range and the Bundelkhand region, according to the researchers.
They also noted that large amounts of caracal suitable habitats in India fell within protected areas, thus providing an excellent opportunity for its conservation in the already existing management and conservation setup.
The protected areas which provided high conservation potential for caracals included Kachchh Wildlife Sanctuary (WLS) in Gujarat, the tiger reserves of Ranthambhore, Mukundra hills and Sariska and the WLS of Kumbhalgarh, Mount Abu and Todgarh-Raoli in Rajasthan, as well as Gandhi Sagar WLS in Madhya Pradesh.”
“India has a robust band of several protected areas, which frequently get surveyed by government-initiated All India Tiger Estimation, along with many wildlife organization surveys, which can assist in monitoring the status of caracals. Also, these areas can be prioritised if species reintroduction is planned,” the authors wrote.”
Like Cheetahs, caracals were used by humans for hunting. They are adaptable and relatively easy to capture and train. Caracals were used for hunting animals as small as squirrels and as big as deer. Cheetahs were used to run down and capture large game.
Worldwide the exact number of caracals is unknown. They are considered near threatened. They appear to be abundant in parts and rare in other parts of their range. As the cats are elusive the number in India is not known. The lowest estimate is around 50, which is prompting the renewed caracal conservation efforts. Caracal conservation is an issue world wide as South African caracals are facing threats from pollution.