First, to introduce the main cat characters. Protea is one of the adult female caracals and the 24th cat to be captured on the Urban Caracal Project. Her territory stretches along the white, sandy beaches on the wild, west coast from the Cape of Good Hope lighthouse through to Kommetjie, which she uses as a highway to travel from one hunting spot to the next. The UCP intern team have been following her movements closely, as she is one of the few females collared, as well as one of the few cats collared in the southern part of the Cape Peninsula. Titan is another interesting southern Peninsula character. As his name suggests, he’s the biggest caracal captured, weighing in at 16kg (more than double Protea’s mass!), and traveling pretty impressive distances usually on the eastern coast from Simon’s Town down to around Dias beach.
Through ongoing effort scat and prey remains have been found at GPS clusters, and prey items identified, and these lend important data for the caracal diet analysis. The data on these two cats have revealed some interesting results on what they like to eat, but most importantly that they don’t seem to be very fussy eaters! Some of the most common prey items are Egyptian geese; these are Protea’s favourite by far! Other frequent items on her menu are sacred ibis, various gull species, and cape and white-breasted cormorants. Cape cormorants are a common breeding resident near Cape Point, but are an endemic species that is classified as endangered due to recent rapid declines.
Protea’s feeding site remains include a few large spotted genets and grysbok, and the scat analysis so far shows she likes cape grey mongoose, and the occasional domestic cat.
The rest of her prey items are an assortment of birds: little egret, yellow-billed duck and cape francolin come up fairly regularly.
It’s always exciting when unexpected prey items are found. Two notable species that became lunch are a rock kestrel, a species known to breed around the Cape Point area, and a sandwich tern, which is especially common along the coast in summer. Protea continues her finer taste for endangered birds in her partiality for African penguin. These seabirds are sometimes recorded off the west coast, presumably commuting to the nearby breeding colony at Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town, which must be when she is able to catch them.
The value of scat analysis is that it reveals the small prey items often overlooked in other methods, probably because they are eaten whole! The scat analysis tells us that Protea likes to snack on smaller prey too… shrews and vlei rats feature often, and sometimes snake scales are also found.
Titan’s diet is pretty similar, but a little less varied. He loves cape cormorant, and has certainly eaten a lot of them! The scat confirms this penchant for cormorant and also reveals that he occasionally goes for a rock hyrax (a.k.a. dassie), doesn’t turn his nose up at vlei rats, striped mice and shrews, and also likes the salty taste of African penguin. One of the most amazing findings in Titan’s scat were distinctive black and white quills! Yes, he’s fierce enough to take on an African crested porcupine.