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“The Caracal” is now critically endangered

What is the news?

The National Board for Wildlife includes the caracal in the list of critically endangered species. The recovery programme for critically endangered species in India now includes 22 wildlife species.

About Caracal:

  • It is a medium-sized wild cat native to Africa, Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia including India. The population of this cat is increasing in Africa while its numbers are declining in Asia.

Characteristics:

  • Features: The caracal has long legs, a short face, long canine teeth. It has distinctive ears that are long and pointy with tufts of black hair at their tips.
  • Nocturnal Animal: It is an elusive, primarily nocturnal animal. Its sightings are not common.
  • Diet: The caracal is a carnivore. It typically preys upon small mammals, birds, and rodents.
  • Significance: The caracal has traditionally been valued for its flexibility and its extraordinary ability to catch birds in flight.

Why is the wild cat named Caracal?

  • Its name is on the basis of the Turkish word karakulak, meaning ‘black ears’. It is named due to its iconic ears.
  • Different Names:
    • In India, Caracal is called Siya gosh, a Persian name that translates as ‘black Ear’.
    • A Sanskrit fable (short story) exists about a small wild cat named deergha karn or ‘long-eared’.

Habitat:

  • Earlier Caracals could be found in arid and semi-arid scrub forest regions of 13 Indian states. It was also found in nine out of the 26 biotic provinces.
  • However, currently, its presence is restricted to Rajasthan, Kutch, and parts of Madhya Pradesh(MP).

Conservation Status:

  • IUCN Red List: Least Concern
  • Wildlife Protection Act, 1972: Schedule I
  • CITES Listing: Appendix I for the Asian population and Appendix II for others.

Threats:

  • Loss of habitat and increasing urbanisation
    • Example: Chambal ravines which are caracal’s natural habitat has been often officially notified as wasteland.
  • Infrastructure projects such as the building of roads lead to the fragmentation of the caracal’s ecology and disruption of its movement.

Historical significance of Caracal:

  • Ancient Times: The earliest evidence of the caracal in the subcontinent comes from a fossil dating back to the Indus Valley Civilization c. 3000-2000 BC.
  • Medieval Times:
    • It was a favourite coursing or hunting animal in medieval India.
    • Firuz Shah Tughlaq (1351-88) had siyah-goshdar khana stables that housed large numbers of coursing caracal.
    • Caracal finds mention in Abul Fazl’s Akbarnama as a hunting animal in the time of Akbar(1556-1605).
    • Descriptions and illustrations of the caracal can also be found in medieval texts such as Anvar-i-Suhayli, Tutinama, Khamsa-e Nizami and Shahnameh.
  • Modern Times: The East India Company’s Robert Clive is said to have been presented with a caracal after he defeated Siraj-ud-daullah in the Battle of Plassey(1757).

Source: Indian Express

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