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Current Affairs

The caracal

Date: 01 March 2021 Tags: Biodiversity

Issue

The National Board for Wildlife and Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has included the caracal in the list of critically endangered species.

 

Background

Caracal is a medium-sized wildcat found in parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat. Though not under grave threat in its other habitats, the animal is on the verge of extinction in India.

 

Details

  • Besides India, the caracal is found in several dozen countries across Africa, the Middle East, Central and South Asia. While it flourishes in parts of Africa, its numbers in Asia are declining.

  • The wildcat has long legs, a short face, long canine teeth, and distinctive ears — long and pointy, with tufts of black hair at their tips.

  • The iconic ears are what give the animal its name — caracal comes from the Turkish karakulak, meaning ‘black ears’.

  • In India, it is called siya gosh, a Persian name that translates as ‘black Ear’. A Sanskrit fable exists about a small wild cat named deergha-karn or ‘long-eared’.

 

Historical significance

  • The earliest evidence of the caracal in the subcontinent comes from a fossil dating back to the civilisation of the Indus Valley c. 3000-2000 BC.

  • The caracal has traditionally been valued for its litheness and extraordinary ability to catch birds in flight. 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. It 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 be found in medieval texts such as the Anvar-i-Suhayli, Tutinama, Khamsa-e-Nizami, and Shahnameh.

  • 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).

 

Declining population

  • In recent years, cases have been detected of the animal being captured to be sold as exotic pets and the decline of its population is attributable mainly to loss of habitat and increasing urbanisation.

  • Infrastructure projects such as the building of roads lead to the fragmentation of the caracal’s ecology and disruption of its movement. The loss of habitat also affects the animal’s prey which includes small ungulates and rodents.

  • The listing of the caracal as critically endangered is expected to bring central funding to conservation efforts.

  •  It is likely to ensure that the animal is studied comprehensively for the first time, including its home range, population, prey, etc.