By Farnaz Heidari

Caracal, wildlife great hunter

October 24, 2016

Caracal (Caracal caracal) is a native species in Iran and some other countries of southwest Asia into India. This species also have broadly distribution in Central Asia and Africa. The historical range of the Caracal mirrors that of the cheetah, and both coincide with the distribution of several small desert gazelles.

Caracal (Caracal caracal) is a native species in Iran and some other countries of southwest Asia into India. This species also have broadly distribution in Central Asia and Africa. The historical range of the Caracal mirrors that of the cheetah, and both coincide with the distribution of several small desert gazelles.

Caracals providentially are present across most regions of eastern and central Iran, including Fars and northern Khuzestan but there are also some concerns over the status of populations not just in Iran but also in the Central Asian Republics and also in Pakistan.

Dry steppes and semi deserts of Kavir National Park, Tooran National Park, Bahram-e Goor Protected Area, Saghand Yazd, Abbasabad Naeen, Naybandan Wildlife Refuge, Sistan-Baluchestan, Khorasan, Masjedsoleyman and Kermanshah are all listed as Caracal habitats in Iran.

Taxonomic and molecular evidences confirmed that Caracal is closely allied with the African Golden Cat (Caracal aurata) and Serval (Leptailurus serval). Caracals as nocturnal hunters live in harmony with rodents, birds, reptiles, snakes, rabbits, small mammals.

A magnificent capability that threatens Caracals

Caracals have a great capability for hunting and that’s why they are traditionally trained and abused for hunting small game including birds. On the other hand, trapping and relocating individuals is often thought of as a humane-solution to current or potential conflict with predatory species. Trapping causes animals great stress because they can injure themselves if adequate methods does not apply.

Caracals all have stories to tell. This is the story of Michael, a male Caracal who lives at Tehran Zoo now. His story help us feel the status of being abused just because of being exclusive and a fast hunter. This is a true story from Iran wildlife.

Michael, the story of suffering and being abused

In October 2010, a male three years old Caracal that was illegally captured, found at small village near Shiraz, Fars Province, in Iran.

Dr. Iman Memarian is trusted wildlife veterinarian of Department of the Environment of Islamic Republic of Iran (DoE), and also an expert in capturing and recapturing wildlife species. Memarian pinpointed the process of anesthesia to the Tehran Times saying “We used combination of Zoletil and Medetomidine administered in same 5ml Teleinject blowpipe dart by intramuscular injection provided effective anesthesia and sedation that reversed with atipamezole at least 20 minutes after medetomidine injection; under the anesthesia the animal was weighed (10kg), blood and skin sample for DNA analyses were taken and a radio collar was placed on the animal.”

But what was the reason of using radio collar and how it came by? “Within a couple of days he was ready to be released to where he was initially found,” he said.

“Iranian conservationist team at that time considered particular facts such as collecting data on him because this individual could reflect his natural behavior which is still a big gap for conservation of these opportunistic predator, “Memarian explained, adding, “After adequate conservation study, Bahram-e-Goor Protected Area was considered as a suitable place for rehabilitation of the animal and finally on October 6, 2010 the animal was released in this protected area.”

This male Caracal was monitored for two months until Iranian conservationists were shocked when absolutely no signal was detected for one month. In the light of using radio collars, the male Caracal was found in a sheep pen at a village, sustaining some injuries.

“We human beings tend to assume we rule the Wildlife,” Memarian regretted, “Poor male Caracal (Michael) has been captured by rural people in a village near Shahrebabak, Kerman Province, in December 2010.”

“Michael was anaesthetized again by using combination of Ketamine and Medetomidine administered in same 5ml Teleinject blowpipe dart by intramuscular injection that reversed with atipamezole at least 50 minutes after medetomidine injection; clinical examination revealed 4kg weight loss compared to the previous examination, 8%-10% dehydration (depressed, eyes: deeply sunken, mucous membranes: dry, Skin turgor > 3 sec) and depression,” he explained.

The animal had alopecia, erythema, erosion, crusting and scaling around his head, neck (under the collar) and front limbs and under anesthesia, skin samples were obtained by scraping and hair plucking in several regions of affected areas, he said.

Via direct microscopy no mite or fungi were seen in superficial and deep skin scraping and a trichogram showed broken hair shafts in anagen phase, he added.

Skin scrapings and hair follicles specimens were collected aseptically and submitted for culture to the Mycology Laboratory, University of Shiraz, he said, adding, suspected dermatophyte colonies were identified by their macroscopic and microscopic morphological characteristics and all tests were performed in triplicate. Finally, the fungus was identified as T. mentagrophytes.

Memarian went on to say that Michael was placed in a disinfected cage and treatment was done by Griseofulvin administered with the feed and improvement was noted after 3 weeks of therapy.

He further pointed that treatment lasted for 5 weeks and a second sampling showed no infection with dermatophytes and then blood sample was taken again and no side effects were detected and to the best of our knowledge, this was the first report on isolation of Trichophyton mentagrophytes in Caracal caracal.

Michael, from the wild to Tehran Zoo 

Animal right activists always condemn Zoos to bring the animals in captivity, but what was the future of Michael if there was no zoo? Could he back to the wild?

“Absolutely not” Memarian said.

There is a growing body of evidence that suggest Iranian Zoos have many problems, but the question is: “Shall we omit the reality?” Now zoos around the world, considered as an important part of conservation plans. With the rise of the animal welfare movement and increasing concern for the environment in general, and the loss of biodiversity in particular, many zoos have moved the focus of their activity towards conservation and Iranian Zoos must carry it out.

Some management methods such as the story of Michael come directly from human and veterinary medicine. Memarian concluded “the current goal of most major zoos such as Tehran Zoo is helping wildlife not just keeping animals in captivity; Michael now lives in Tehran Zoo just because there was absolutely no way for him to survive, he had serious injuries and we will do our best to be good hosts to animals like Michael”. 

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