Taking a Caracal for a Walk

I awoke to my third day in Namibia, again at 6.30. It's not so bad getting up early when you know the day ahead of you is going to be an adventure. I got up and headed down to the volunteer base area where I have my morning cup of tea and some breakfast. I cannot function in a day without my morning brew! It's whilst having breakfast that we find out what our activities are for the day. I was so excited that today I was going on a caracal walk!

What is a caracal? In case you didn't already know, a caracal is one of Africa's smallest cats. It's also one of Africa's rarest. Caracals can easily be distinguished by their sandy, brown pelts and also their black, tufty ears. They're considerably larger than a domesticated cat but nowhere near the size of a cheetah or a leopard.

So, we jumped on our truck and drove to the caracal enclosures to pick up Alex the caracal. I'm not sure what Alex's story is but my guess is he was brought to N/a'an ku sê an orphan and was hand-reared. Thus, he can never be released into the wild as he has grown up too closely to humans and so wouldn't be fearful of them in the wild.

We picked Alex up from his enclosure and he hitched a ride on the back of our truck in.

Alex the caracal, raring to go on his walk

We began our walk, Alex bounding through the undergrowth alongside us. I was impressed with how Alex never wondered too far from us - he was much better behaved than my dog! It was great to watch such an impressive animal in its natural habitat. Alex really enjoyed scratching and climbing trees as well as playing with dung. It was funny to watch him rolling the dung around like a ball. At one point, Alex started hunting some prey in a burrow. I'm not sure what was down there but Alex's twitching ears suggested he could hear movement. After waiting patiently and eventually pouncing, Alex didn't catch it. Oh well!

Despite Alex being potentially hand-reared by humans, we were told never to forget that he is a wild animal and we were not allowed to crouch down around him as when you are the same size as the wildlife, they are much more likely to take you on. In fact, on a separate walk which I didn't take part in, one volunteer didn't adhere to these guidelines and crouched down. Alex jumped onto her back and she ended up with a deep scratch to the back of her neck. Wild animals are unpredictable and should always be respected, even if they have grown up with humans.

After walking for over an hour, we took Alex back to his enclosure. On our drive back, we saw a group of horses, grazing in the bush. These horses were in fact the reserve's horses who are used in quieter periods to take volunteers out into the bush. I was disappointed that I wouldn't be riding, as it's something I really love to do. Oh, well, I couldn't really complain - I was already doing so many fantastic things.

Our time with the caracals wasn't over for the day yet. The best was yet to come and what I saw was amazing.

It was feeding time for some of the other caracals. Everyone was really excited and I wasn't entirely sure why until I witnessed the feeding. Meat was flung into the air into the enclosure. The caracals, eyes locked onto their prize, used their powerful hind legs to haul themselves several metres into the air. Caracals can jump up to 10 feet high to catch their meal. Whilst grabbing their food mid-air, some caracals did somersaults, putting on a jaw-dropping display.

Where there were several caracals in one enclosure, the cats would squabble between each other for the first pieces of meat. I remember two caracals were hissing and swiping at one another for the catch. They were so fixated on their disagreement that the third caracal leapt into the air and grabbed the meat, sprinting off into the undergrowth to eat his prized catch. Of course, they all ended up with their own piece of meat in the end.

Today's activity was one of the best experiences of my life so far.