Caracal: residents ‘living in fear’

This caracal was brought into the SPCA for treatment and then released with a collar so that movements could be monitored. The collar drops off after three months.

Residents of a Melkbosstrand golf estate say they want wildlife authorities to remove caracals from the area as they have not only killed scores of pet cats, they’re also a threat to children.

But Cape Nature has refused to issue a permit to have the creatures relocated, and wildlife experts, including Dr Laurel Serieys, the coordinator at the Urban Caracal Project, say it’s the right decision.

“Relocation is not a humane solution but rather an inhumane form of persecution,” she said.

But the Atlantic Beach Estate residents argue their families’ safety comes first, and this is why they are not letting the issue go (“Fur flies in caracal debate,” Tabletalk, Wednesday July 18).

One of the resident’s, Fraser Gregg, said it was unfair for people to judge them for feeling the way they do. He said residents were living in fear.

“This is not something that should be taken lightly because we have these caracals preying on our cats, and the attacks are getting more brazen.”

Mr Gregg sent photographs to Tabletalk of cats that had gone missing or been killed.

He said caracals were to blame for the disappearance or death of some 70-odd cats in the estate over the past five years, and the attackers appeared to be getting more vicious.

His pictures showed the dismembered and savaged bodies of cats.

Another resident, Jenny Gregg, said that in some cases it seemed as if pet cats had been hunted for sport instead of food.

“Right now, these rogue caracals just kill the cats and leave them as if they are practising. The cats are also being killed in broad daylight and right in between our houses, so this is very worrying.”

But Dr Serieys said it was not unusual for caracals to be seen hunting during the day or night.

“While caracals are mostly nocturnal, they are not exclusively nocturnal,” she said.

“Trying to apply strict rules of behaviour for an entire species is foolhardy and misrepresents the adaptability of some species, such as the caracal, to habitat modification and increasing urbanisation.”

Anne Jennens, another resident at the estate, said they were not asking for all the caracals to go, only the “rogue” ones that had proved “troublesome”.

“None of us want all these caracals removed as we also love animals, but there are those that are causing a danger to our pets, children and possibly to ourselves,” she said.

Residents said they feared the caracals might start attacking people, with children being most vulnerable.

“Would you sit back and let this go if you knew there could be potential danger to your children?” said Mr Gregg.

“Should we wait until someone’s child is attacked for us to do something about it? We are entitled to be upset about this.”

The spectre of a caracal attacking a child is something Professor Jacobus du Plessis Bothma, of the South African Council for Natural Science Professions, alludes to in a report he compiled for the estate.

“From personal experience, I know that a caracal will focus on any young child which it may encounter and attack it as soon as the child runs or turns its back on it,” Professor Bothma wrote.

Harry White, the CEO of the Atlantic Beach Homeowners’ Association, said they had applied to CapeNature two weeks ago to have the caracal on the estate captured and relocated.

“We were advised during the course of the week that CapeNature had rejected our application to both capture, and to relocate, the caracal.

“Their reply failed to address concerns that the caracal may pose a threat to people, particularly babies and young children.

“By way of our attorneys, we have requested CapeNature to provide clarity in this regard,” said Mr White.

Justin O’Riain, the director of the Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa and a professor in biological sciences at UCT, said CapeNature’s decision was based on sound wildlife-management principles.

He said capture and relocation would cause stress to the caracals.

“There is also a lot of stress being released in a new and unfamiliar environment. Then there is stress to the receiving population of caracals as it will invariably be released into the home range of other caracals,” he said.

Dr Serieys said she had seen Professor Bothma’s report, although he had not outlined details of his observations in it.

“However, upon clarifying the information with him, apparently the observation he made of the risk of a caracal attacking a child was an observation made of a captive caracal that was playing with his child, not a wild caracal,” she said.

CapeNature’s spokeswoman Maritjie Engelbrecht confirmed CapeNature had received a permit application from Atlantic Beach Estate.

“The application has been denied by CapeNature,” she added.

According to CapeNature, the estate wanted permission to identify, capture and relocate caracals itself.