Felines are perhaps the most successful predators among mammals. More species of felines exist than of canines. In a previous post we covered small felines of the Northern Hemisphere: Bobcat and Lynx. Let’s move over to Africa and talk about what cats, other than Lion, Leopard and Cheetah, you can hunt there. There are three: Caracal, Serval, and African Wild Cat.
A search for a “cat” in the BookYourHunt.com search window will also deliver you hunting offers for Genet Cat and Civet Cat. But these small predators, catlike as they are and name notwithstanding, are not cats in the strict sense of the word. They belong to the family of Viverrids, small, omnivorous creatures that are great climbers, in spite of the fact that their claws aren’t fully retractable. Civet and Genet Cats are hunted both for their fur and for their meat, but they don’t belong to the family Felidae, and we’ll speak about them some other time.
African Wild Cat is a small feline that is mostly sandy colored with pale stripes and spots and big ears. It looks pretty much like a large domestic cat, and in fact is the ancestor of domestic cats. It is widely distributed across Asia, Near East, and Africa, and many subspecies are recognized. It’s the African subspecies that are an object of hunting.
The behavior of the African wild cat doesn’t differ much from that of a feral domestic cat either. It feeds on mice, birds, lizards and insects, but may occasionally kill bigger rodents, and very young kids of domestic sheep and goats and smaller antelopes. Hunting opportunities for African Wild Cat exist in Ethiopia, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. In some of these countries it is considered a pest and does not require a special permit to hunt, while in others the permit is necessary, and must be obtained in advance.
Serval is a mid-sized feline, and weighs about 9 to 18 kilograms. Serval has long body, similar in shape to domestic cat and leopard, and large ears. The head is relatively small, and the legs are one of the longest among the felines. A Serval may stand up to 60 sm. at the shoulder, and measure 1 meter in length exclusive of tail. They can leap up to 2 meters into the air, or up to 3.5 meters in length.
Serval is a solitary animal that hardly ever interacts with other servals aside from the breeding period. Serval prefer savannah with a lot of water, but will be found in other habitats, too, if the two conditions – water and cover – are met. You will hardly meet a Serval in a desert, nor in an equatorial rainforest. Its long legs help walk through water, carrying the body above water level. Rodents make up about 90% of Serval’s diet, but they can catch smaller antelopes, duikers, and birds as well.
Three subspecies are recognized, according to geographical distribution, inhabiting South Africa, Central and West Africa, and East Africa respectively. Interestedly, the name “serval” comes from Medieval Latin or Spanish name for Iberian Lynx, and literally means “a deer-like wolf”, or, rather, “deer-hunting wolf”. Hunting opportunities for Serval exist in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
The range of Caracal covers not only Africa, but also Central Asia, India and Middle East. Southern Caracal, that inhabits South and East Africa, can be legally hunted. Hunting opportunities exist in Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia.
At about 50 sm. at the shoulder, a Caracal is just a tad smaller than Serval. But it weighs about the same, 8-18 kg., can jump even higher (up to 3.7 m.) and longer (up to 5 m.). Caracal is a wonderful jumper and may catch birds in mid-air. Caracal can prey on various animals, including rodents and lizards. But it often attacks smaller antelopes, like impala or springbok, and the young of larger antelopes as well. Caracal can also target domestic cattle, especially sheep and goats. It is a solitary animal, and about the only time the animals stick together are during mating periods and a cat with kittens.
If the Wildebeest is a poor man’s buffalo, then the Caracal is a poor man’s leopard. This is not about appearance. With black, tufted ears, long legs, and relatively short tail, a Caracal resembles a Lynx – safe for the usually solid sandy color – and in fact is sometimes called “Desert Lynx”. The black tufts gave the species its name, from Turkic roots “kara” (“black”) and “kulak” (“ear”). What likens the Caracal and the Leopard are the hunting methods and how difficult it is to get the cat in the sights. Solitary, nocturnal, and wary, the cat is one of the hardest trophies in Africa for its size.
All three small felines of Africa are Least Concern, although some specific populations or subspecies may be listed as Near Threatened and Endangered. This is why they are listed in CITES Appendix II, and some in Appendix I. Hunting permit is necessary for Serval in any country across its range, and it has to be obtained before the hunt. In South Africa Caracal and African Wild Cat are listed as vermin, and no permit is required to take them, so you can hunt them during a regular plains game hunt if an opportunity arises. In other countries a permit is required to be obtained before the hunt.
How to Hunt Small Felines in Africa
The problem with Serval and Caracal hunting in Africa is that the species are both secretive and territorial. The home range of a bit old male may be up to 32 square kilometers in size, and within this range they have areas they prefer to the others. Successful hunting depends on the PHs knowing the territory of the concession, and also experience in hunting small felines. This is what you have to find out in advance by questioning the outfitter.
In South Africa Caracal and African Wild Cat are often harvested opportunistically, that is, when a chance presents itself during a regular plains game hunt. In fact, one of the biggest Caracal trophies in South Africa was killed as the cat killed the antelope the hunter was stalking before the hunter’s eyes. With Serval, and with all small felines in other countries, it won’t work too well, because the permit must be obtained (and paid for) in advance. And if you paid for the permit, and don’t want it to be wasted, you’d have to resort to a dedicated feline hunting methods.
Some South African outfitters have special package hunts for “night critters”, including Serval, Caracal, African Wild Cat, Honey Badger, and other species. During these hunts, it is legal to use artificial lights and/or night vision devices, but the outfitter is required to obtain a special night hunts license for that. Calling is the preferred hunting method for such hunts, with sounds of prey in distress used to attract predators. Baiting is less efficient, because all small felines prefer to eat what they kill with their own paws and fangs. The juicy piece you’ve laid out is not guaranteed to attract the feline, but waiting over the cat’s own kill is more reliable. This is especially true for Caracal, who typically preys on bigger animals.
While felines are usually nocturnal, Serval is most active during twilight, and may hunt at day as well as at night. Spot-and-stalk or still-hunting at a place where a good male is known to hunt can work well. You will probably need to spend at least three days before you can set your sights on the cat, but overall the Serval is perhaps the easiest of African small felines to hunt deliberately. The Caracal, by contrast, could be the hardest. In the days of old hounders used to set their packs on Caracal to prepare the dogs for Leopard hunting. Now, however, hunting small felines with packs of hounds is illegal pretty much everywhere except Mozambique, but Mozambique has a moratorium on small cat hunting.
The trophy fee for an African Wild Cat runs from $250 to $400, depending on location and pricing policy of the outfitters. A Serval trophy fee can be as low as $750 in Zimbabwe, and can go to up to $2,000 in South Africa. Most offers are in the 1,000-$1,500 range. The Caracal trophy fee is somewhat lower, starting at about $650 and seldom going over $1,500. This is only the price of the trophy; with daily rates the price of a complete hunt will usually be in the $2,000-$4,500 range.
Why hunt small felines?
If you look up the major conservation threats for either African Wild Cat, Serval, or Caracal, you’ll see that they are illegal hunting for their beautiful fur (especially Serval, which can be passed for a leopard), habitat loss, and retaliatory or preventive killing for real or perceived threat to domestic animals. True enough, the Serval is a notorious poultry thief, and the Caracal, as mentioned above, preys readily on goat and sheep. You will also see that hunting concessions help combat all the three evils. They fight illegal harvest in all forms, protect wilderness from logging and conversion into farms and pastures, but most importantly, they give value to wildlife for the locals. Jobs created by a hunting concession and tips from a successful hunter are worth much more than a couple of chicken or a goat!
But that only works if the species has value – that is, can be hunted (today or in future). This makes the conservation aspect of hunting Serval, Caracal and African Wild Cat perhaps the most significant. It shouldn’t overshadow the fact, however, that these small felines are a very challenging hunting quarry in their own right. And, in hunting, what’s challenging is interesting. Few hunters will go to Africa to hunt only Serval or Caracal. But if you wonder whether you should add variety to your plains game hunt by including one of these small felines, give it a try!