CARACAL (Felis caracal Schreber = Lynx caracal, Caracal caracal; Figure 1), also called “desert lynx” or “Persian lynx”; in Persian, sīāhgūš, lit. “black-eared,” so called because the back of its long, tufted, black-tipped ears is distinctively black (the name caracal itself comes—ultimately—from Turkish qara-qūlāq/kara-kūlāk, lit. “black-ear(ed),” as a calque of the Persian name).
The caracal, which ranges from Africa to central and southwestern Asia, occurs widely in Persia: It has been reported from Ḵūzestān, Fārs, Kermān, the Kavīr region, Baluchistan, Khorasan, Šāhrud, and Tehran area (for details, see Eʿtemād, II, p. 172, and the distribution map, ibid.; see also Harrington, Jr., et al., p. 56, and color pl. 19).
The caracal was renowned for its high coursing speed and for its agility in hunting. Zakarīyā Qazvīnī describes it as follows (p. 263, s.v. ʿanāq [al-arzÂµ], its common name in Arabic): “It is larger than the dog, very good-looking; its color is like that of the red [probably meaning tawny or reddish brown] camel; its ears are black. It hunts as the cheetah does. When walking, it conceals its tracks [i.e., it is digitigrade]. It [stalks and] hunts the crane, and if the crane flies off, it springs up forcefully into the air and catches the crane with its paw” (cf. Balfour, II, p. 752: “It often catches crows as they rise from the ground, by springing 5 to 6 feet into the air after them”). It can be tamed, especially if caught young.
The caracal’s tractability plus its innate hunting prowess have caused it to be trained since ancient times for hunting, just like its congener the yūz (cheetah, q.v.). According to Iranian legendary history (as related by Ferdowsī in the Šāh-nāma), Tahmūraṯ was the first to tame and train the caracal and the cheetah, which he selected from among all the wild beasts, and the bāz and the shaheen from among the birds of prey (Šāh-nāma, Moscow, I, p. 36, vv. 11-14; see also Ebn al-Balḵī, p. 28). However, the stronger, faster, and larger cheetah (measuring about 130 cm, excluding its long tail) was much preferred by hunters to the caracal with its inferior strength and size (65-75 cm long, without the tail, and standing about 40-50 cm at the shoulders). The caracal was trained, therefore, to catch relatively small game, such as hares, rabbits, and young gazelles. ʿAlī Nasavī, an expert in training birds and beasts of prey (393-493/1002-99), while saying that the caracal is good only for hunting the hare, quotes a fellow master of the art, Abu’l-Qāsem Eṣfahānī, as affirming that it can also catch ducks, bustards, and cranes (Bāz-nāma, p. 172).
The same author states (ibid.) that the technique of training the caracal, which “[was] captured a lot in ʿErāq and Khorasan” for that purpose, is almost the same as the laborious procedure of training a cheetah; in particular, he recalls the use of the bit (of the bridle) and the fetter for preventing the caracal from sleeping (during the early period of training), and the necessity of training it how to ride pillion (with the trainer or bunter).
Closely related to the caracal is the lynx (Felis lynx L., = Lynx lynx), which occurs widely in some cold regions of Eurasia (in Asia, including the southern Caucasus, Transcaucasia, Armenia, Turkey, Persia, southern Turkestan, and Central Asian mountains). In Persia it is found in forested areas and also in open, rocky mountain slopes in Azerbaijan, and eastward through the central Alborz region to the vicinity of Tehran (Harrington, Jr., et al., p. 38, and color pl. 10; Eʿtemād, loc. cit., p. 167, and the distribution map, ibid.).
The lynx is larger than the caracal (about 82-105 cm long, without the black-tipped tail, and about 60-65 cm high at the shoulders). It has black ear tufts—a feature which, in addition to zoological kinship, may justify the name sīāhgūš erroneously applied to it by some modern authors (e.g., Eʿtemād, ibid., who, however, unduly calls the caracal kārākāl in Persian). In classical sources the lynx is called vašaq (e.g., in Tonokābonī, p. 865, and in the Borhān-e qāṭeʿ, ed. Moʿīn , s.v.; ašaq [?] in Nasavī, op. cit., p. 173)—probably a word of Turkish origin (wašaq is the current name of the lynx in Arabic; cf. also Dozy, II, p. 816: wašaq “lynx fur”). According to Nasavī, the ašaq [?] is about the size of the sīāhgūš; has a soft gray coat which is white on the belly and with which pelisses (pūstīns, q.v.) are made; it abounds in the province of Šervān, where it is captured and trained like the sīāhgūš to hunt hares. The author of the Borhān-e qāṭeʿ, loc. cit., says that the vašaq, found in Turkestan, resembles the fox, and that its pelts are made into pūstīns, which, reportedly, would guard against piles anyone who wears them. Tonokābonī has a more accurate description of the vašaq: It is much smaller than the leopard (palang) but looks like it in color and form; that is why it is called paleng-e mūl [lit. “leopard’s bastard”] in Tonokābon. Further, according to him, it has the same properties as the leopard: Wearing its fur excites sexual desire, enhances sexual potency, and prevents the formation of hemorrhoids, and its burnt hair helps cure old wounds. These virtues are different from those “beneficial uses” mentioned by Ḥobayš Teflīsī (6th/ l2th cent.) for the sīāhgūš: eating the meat of the latter, or taking internally its gall with rose water, makes one strong, brave, and intrepid (Bayān al-ṣenāʿāt, p. 366).
The caracal is also known in classical Persian by the name (or nickname) of parvāna(k) (from Mid. Pers. parwānag) or its variant farāna(k), arabicized as, forāneq, literally meaning “leader, guide, vanguard” (cf., e.g., Zamaḵšarī, I, p. 59; “forāneq: an army’s guide,” and Fīrūzābādī, III, p. 485: “forāneq, arabicized from Pers. parvānak/g: somebody who guides a courier on his route”). A wrong interpretation generally given by lexicographers of this appellation is this: “The sīāhgūš . . . is renowned as šāṭer-e sīr [the herald/forerunner of the lion] because it goes ahead of the lion and cries in order to warn the other animals of the lion’s coming” (Ānand Rāj, s.vv. sīāhgūš, forāneq, and parvāna(k); but the following bayt quoted by the author from Ḵāqānī Šervānī is closer to the true interpretation [see below]: “Sire, thou art a lion and I am thy parvāna; the parvāna is better off under the lion’s protection”). The caracal is further known in Persian literature for this feature that it feeds on the leftovers of the lion’s repast. As Ḥamd-Allāh Qazvīnī puts it accurately (Nozhat al-qolūb, Pers. text, p. 46), “the ʿanāq keeps company with the lion most of the time, partakes of the leftovers of its prey, but for fear of the lion’s assault, it does not go too near the latter” (this parasitic but cautious dependence of the caracal—symbolizing a greedy courtier—on the lion—as a mighty king—is turned into a short parable by Saʿdī in his Golestān, pp. 88-89). The facts about the caracal-lion interdependence in Africa as explained by P. Larousse (Grand dictionnaire III, s.v. caracal, mainly on the authority of the l8th-century French naturalist Buffon) may be summarized as follows: In its habitat in the hot regions of Africa, the caracal has to coexist with such other beasts of prey as the lion, the ounce, and the panther; but being smaller and weaker than them, it is at greater pains to find its food, and very often it has to content itself with the leftovers of its formidable congeners. For safety’s sake, however, it prefers to follow the lion because the latter, when sated, does not harm anybody. Sometimes it even accompanies the lion pretty closely, because, able as it is to jump quickly up a nearby tree, it does not fear the rage of the lion, which cannot chase it up a tree as a panther could. For its part, the caracal unwittingly makes up for the weak sense of smell of the lion, which thus takes advantage of the caracal’s keener smell to scent and track down the preys from afar.
Both the caracal and the lynx have been declared “protected” animals in Persia, and the latest decree of the High Council of the [Persian] Department of the Environment (Šahrīvar 1366 Š./September 1987) fixes at Rls 200,000 the fine for each hunted (killed) caracal or lynx.
E. Balfour, The Cyclopaedia of India and of Eastern and Southern Asia . . . II, 3rd ed., London, 1885; repr. Graz, 1967.
R. Dozy, Supplément aux dictionnaires arabes, 2 vols., Leiden, 1881; repr. Beirut, 1981.
Ebn al-Balḵī, Fārs-nāma, ed. G. Le Strange and R. A. Nicholson, Cambridge, 1921.
E. Eʿtemād, Pestāndārān-e Īrān II, Tehran, 1364 Š./1985-86.
Moḥammad b. Yaʿqūb Fīrūzābādī, al-Qāmūs al-moḥīṭ, alphabetically rearranged by Ṭāher Aḥmad Zāwī, 4 vols., Cairo, n.d. [1971-73?].
F. A. Harrington, Jr., et al., A Guide to the Mammals of Iran, Tehran, 1977.
P. Larousse, Grand dictionnaire universel du XIXe siècle III, Paris, n.d.
Moḥammad-Pādšāh (Šād), Farhang-e Ānand Rāj, ed. M. Dabīrsīāqī, 7 vols., Tehran, 2nd ed., 1363 Š./1984-85.
Abu’l-Ḥasan ʿAlī b. Aḥmad Nasavī, Bāz-nāma, ed. ʿA. Ḡaravī, Tehran, 1354 Š./1975.
Ḥamd-Allāh Qazvīnī, Nozhat al-qolūb; the zoological section . . ., ed. and tr. J. Stephenson, London, 1928.
Saʿdī, Golestān, ed. Ḵ. Ḵaṭīb Rahbar, Tehran, 1348 Š./1969.
Ḥobayš b. Ebrāhīm Teflīsī, Bayān al-ṣenāʿāt, ed. Ī. Afšār, in FIZ 5, 1336 Š./ 1957-58, pp. 279-458.
Moḥammad-Moʾmen Tonokābonī (Ḥakīm Moʾmen), Toḥfat al-moʾmenīn (Toḥfa-ye Ḥakīm Moʾmen), Tehran, n.d. [1360 Š./1981?].
Abu’l-Qāsem Maḥmūd b. ʿOmar Zamaḵšarī, Pīšrow-e adab (Moqaddemat al-adab), ed. M.-K. Emām, 2 vols., Tehran, 1342 Š./1963.
Originally Published: December 15, 1990
Last Updated: December 15, 1990
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Vol. IV, Fasc. 7, pp. 788-790