It’s not every day you get the chance to interrupt a caracal having dinner. But such was our luck coming down Kloof Corner, a local Capetonian sundowner spot hidden under the shadow of Table Mountain, a few nights ago.
Making its way down the steep winding path, what we thought was a medium sized dog was, unmistakably, a caracal on his way to a dinner date.
It was at this point that some furious scrambling began.
My wife pulled her cell phone out of her pocket, our friend madly adjusted her headlamp, and I dug into my backpack looking for my camera.
The caracal promptly moved off the pathway to plonk itself on a rock, where it nonchalantly started eating on what looked like a bird, despite its onlooking awestruck audience.
Little did we know in front of us was a very infamous ‘showboat’ caracal named Hermes. His identity revealed to us thanks to a set of blue and green tags found on the back of his ears.
Hermes is part of a much larger group of neighbourhood caracals being closely monitored by the Urban Caracal Project. Led by Project Co-Ordinator Dr Laurel Klein Serieys, they have been undergoing a comprehensive ecological study on Cape Peninsula caracals isolated by urban Cape Town - the first study, to their knowledge, of the effects of urbanization on caracals.
Hermes is the 33rd caracal to have been brought onto the project said Gabi Leighton, a PhD Candidate of Biological Sciences University of Cape Town, after seeing his image pop up on their social media pages and identifying him for us.
In August 2018, he narrowly escaped death after being hit by a car on Kloof Nek road, very close to where we found him. This is part of road has become known as a funnel for wildlife that cross between Table Mountain and Lions Head, the exact location that two other caracals have tragically lost their lives.
An onlooker took Hermes to a local vet, where it was found that he had been hit on the head. Despite swelling, a concussion, and nearly biting his tongue off, he recovered.
Once released back into the wild, it turns out, he is quite the showboat having been sighted many times, especially in the front Table area, says Leighton.
According to the Urban Caracal Project wild cats are usually elusive but living so close to urban areas means that Table Mountain caracals become habituated to some degree, especially if they feel "safe". Hermes is a good example of this, and his behaviour is quite normal for a wild cat species accustomed to human activity.
Retrospectively this may somewhat dampen the ‘exclusivity’ of our dinner date, but it still does not lessen our wonder. And as Hermes finished up his meal and made a hasty retreat down the pathway and out of sight disappearing into the fynbos, it will be a memory we won’t forget.
Just another reminder that South Africans are incredibly fortunate to live in a country where nature is literally right on your doorstep.
Spot a caracal? The Urban Caracal Project says you can contact them via their website here, or else on their Facebook group here.
The project is run in a partnership between the Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa (iCWild), the University of Cape Town, Universities of California (Santa Cruz and Los Angeles), South Africa National Parks, the City of Cape Town, and private landowners in Cape Town.
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