Do you, like most people who speak Spanish, think that “caracal” is a misspelling for “caracol” (snail)? Well, it isn’t. A caracal is one of the endangered wild cats of South Africa, about the size of a cocker spaniel dog, with beautiful face markings and big, dark ears, very shy and, unfortunately, fast becoming rarer than rare. I had the good fortune of going into the large enclosure for three of them at the Tenikwa Wildlife Awareness Centre near Plettenberg Bay, South Africa. And, oh yes, I also got to be really close to the cheetah brother and sister pair in their enclosure, while they were fiercely playing with each other, completely oblivious to the small group of onlookers on their turf.
Len and Mandy Freeman set up Tenikwa in 2002, moving to the Garden Route from KwaZulu Natal, and have established a wildlife rehabilitation program for all injured or sick animals that are brought to them, but most especially for the wide range of “Lesser Wild Cats” that are part of Africa’s wildlife heritage. After all, Africa is not only home to lions but also to cheetahs, leopards, anthill tigers, caracal, serval, African wild cat, etc. The Freemans have set up a veterinary hospital facility to treat injured animals (through traps and being shot at by farmers) and a conservation program which is aimed at the grassroots level to raise awareness about habitat loss, the impact of environmentally insensitive farming practices and respect for wildlife. They work with the youngsters of their communities as well as with farmers in the region, to educate and show them alternative options to killing these innocent animals. One very effective method of protecting the cattle, sheep or goat herds, has been through the use of trained Anatolian sheep dogs- it seems there is a great deal of respect between these dogs and any of the predator cats.
The very excellent website of Tenikwa gives a lot of information about their work, about the cats, their behavior and habitat, as well as the ways in which individuals such as you and I can get involved, even from far away. I certainly did.