The Cederberg Caracal Project has started in 2012 and is based at the Cape Leopard Trust, which is the main funding organization. The study takes place in the Cederberg Mountains, in the Western Cape of South Africa. As its name implies, the project especially focuses on caracals but one of its aim is to improve our knowledge about this elusive species in relation to a bigger predator, the Cape leopard as well as with cattle raisers.
The solitary, nocturnal life style of caracals has meant few field observations have been made on this widely distributed, medium-sized felid and so few studies have been conducted, especially to improve our knowledge of their population size and trend. According to the IUCN Red List, the caracal status is Least Concerned (LC) in southern Africa. However, its status is Near Threatened (NT) in northern Africa which means that it is likely to qualify for a threatened category in the next future, and the caracal is rare in India and central Asia. These statuses have been last assessed in 2008 and the population trend of caracal is unknown, which leaves a big gap in the knowledge concerning this species. Moreover, we know that caracals are very often killed by farmers and cattle raisers because of the damages they’re causing in the livestock, accentuating the threat. These medium-sized, solitary felines are indeed classified as problem animals in South Africa and in the neighboring Namibia where they are commonly regarded as vermin. This negative perception has resulted in extensive persecution.
Caracals are widespread in Africa, yet little has been published regarding their spatial ecology and the way they interact with other predators. There is a paucity of data to address even the most basic ecological questions for many smaller cats species and the caracal is no exception. More data are urgently needed to answer basic questions and develop strategies for effective conservation and management both within and outside reserves, especially for female caracals. Increased knowledge regarding the range use of caracals is fundamental in terms of furthering the understanding of this cat’s ecology.
This study sets out to strengthen our knowledge of this species ecology and abundance in the Cederberg Mountains as well as its relationship with a bigger predator, the Cape leopard – studied by the project manager of the Cape leopard Trust, Quinton Martins, for nearly ten years in the region – and with farmers. This is one of the reason the project is so interesting and exciting: it studies the interaction between two solitary mammalian carnivores and try to find solutions to conflicts with human populations. Getting more information on how predators interact in the wild, cohabit and compete is of great interest to better understand the Cederberg ecosystem (even if the latter cannot be reduced to these two species only). On the other hand, in previous human-wildlife conflicts studies, the data collected by the means of questionnaires turned out to be biased because of the lack of objectivity farmers could sometimes demonstrate. Using data collected from GPS telemetry tools and remote cameras will allow us to effectively estimate caracal density/distribution in the area and their real impact on small stock.
In this project, we intend to use at least two different methods to determine the distribution, ecology, conservation status and impact of caracals on small stock:
- GPS telemetry tools
- Photographic mark-recapture techniques
This project completely fits the Cape Leopard Trust’s objective which is to “facilitate conservation of the Cape’s predator diversity through simultaneously implementing conservation strategies, research projects and tourism initiatives.”