Post by Max Allen – University of Wisconsin, Madison
The Urban Caracal Project on the Cape Peninsula in South Africa recently captured and GPS-collared its 25th caracal in its quest to understand how these mid-sized African carnivores make their living in urban environments. The newest caracal was a male nicknamed “Titan” for his impressive size. At 16kg, he weighs 25% more than the mean weight of the other adult males in the study. Capturing 25 animals is a definitive milestone for this 18 month old project, led by Dr. Laurel Serieys. The GPS information obtained from these caracals will be valuable in understanding their movements and sources of mortality, informing conservation efforts for these and other African carnivores.
The Cape Peninsula, which encompasses iconic World Heritage Biodiversity hotspots including Cape of Good Hope and Table Mountain, is isolated by the urban areas of Cape Town. Unlike the regions in developed countries where most urban wildlife studies have been done, the urbanization in this study area includes “informal” human settlements that are rapidly expanding and may pose threats that are unique to developing countries. The peninsula has lost most of its large mammals leaving the caracal as the largest remaining carnivore. However, the caracal population is likely to be threatened by increased human activity and informal settlements. A principle focus of the project is thus to understand how to conserve these elusive cats.
The specific goals of the Urban Caracal Project are to:
1. Establish information about the population size, health of individuals, and the distribution of caracals across the Peninsula.
2. Evaluate the effects of urbanization on the behavior, movement patterns, diet, and genetic health of caracals in the Peninsula.
3. Assess threats to survival for caracals in the Peninsula and potentially beyond to other parts of South Africa.
Although the project is local in scale, its findings may be applicable to other urban ecosystems. Urbanization is one of the main threats to biodiversity worldwide, causing reduced numbers and changes to behavior in many wildlife species. How urbanization affects wildlife is a major area of study in the United States, but is understudied in other parts of the world.
Studying how urbanization affects the caracal population may be applicable in understanding other wildlife populations in South Africa and developing countries across the world. The project is documenting how rodenticides and diseases that are transmitted from domestic animals affect the local caracal population. In addition, camera traps set up to study the caracal have revealed the surprising discovery that honey badgers still inhabit the Cape Peninsula!
The video from the Urban Caracal Project that showed that honey badgers still inhabit the Cape Peninsula (Video courtesy of Laurel Serieys)
The Urban Caracal Project is a partnernship between the University of Cape Town, The Cape Leopard Trust, and South Africa National Parks. The project has an informative and popular facebook page that is well worth a follow (https://www.facebook.com/urbancaracal), and more in-depth information can be found on their website at http://www.urbancaracal.org. Keep up to date on my research at https://www.facebook.com/TheWildLives.