Hiding in Plain Sight

 

Cape Town’s social media is abuzz with sightings popping up all over the Peninsula. Two cute-as-pie Caracal kittens were spotted recently frolicking in the upper fynbos reaches of Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden that borders the Table Mountain National Park. These fluffy sightings are something visitors don’t get to see every day!

Caracals are highly elusive creatures that are are proving to be a resilient species even though their habitat is highly challenged because of its proximity to humans. 
They have a love-hate relationship with urban areas: they can be dangerous and fear-provoking but also provide sought-after resources. 
These cryptic, medium-sized wildcats select to forage at the interface between urban and wildland areas, and with greater exposure and habituation, become more attracted to these risky areas.
Individual caracals mitigate the risk of being detected by humans while foraging at the urban edge by reducing movement and remaining hidden where there is concealing vegetation, but this can make them vulnerable to other human-associated threats.

The Urban Caracal Project‘s mission
is to protect biodiversity through research and conservation. It’s a project of the Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa (iCWild) at the University of Cape Town. Key collaborators also include South Africa National Parks, Universities of California (Santa Cruz and Los Angeles), the City of Cape Town, and private landowners in Cape Town.

The study on caracals in the Peninsula is a tool to understand how urbanization may be threatening wildlife across South Africa, and other parts of the world, similarly threatened by urbanization.

Issues The Urban Caracal Project surfaces are: 
– The Cape Peninsula is a ‘biodiversity hotspot’ that has lost almost all its large mammals such as Cape lions, leopards, brown hyena, and jackals. Caracals can play a vital role in maintaining ecosystem balance since they are the largest remaining predator in the area.
– The Cape Peninsula is isolated by urban Cape Town, an urban/agricultural matrix that is rapidly increasing in size, leading to isolation of wildlife populations. Caracal habitat is especially fragmented, presenting a highly challenging environment with busy roads, barriers and persecution.
With their habitat spilling over with ours, our pest control has adverse consequences for caracals, where rat poison builds up in the food chain, affecting caracals when they prey on rats.

For more, see the recent publication led by PhD student Gabriella Leighton in the journal Animal Conservation. The paper is entitled “Hiding in plain sight: risk mitigation by a cryptic carnivore foraging at the urban edge”.  

A project to protect these beguiling, nocturnal creatures places reflective artworks in caracal roadkill “hotspots” that have been identified using mortality data collected over the last six years.
Public Shows of Reflection hopes to bring flashes of wonder into the lives of commuters.
Working with light it aims to inspire people about our incredible ecology whilst raising awareness around specific issues such as roadkill of indigenous and endemic species. It encourages people to SLOW DOWN, and for a moment rediscover a sense of reverence for the wilderness we are so fortunate to live in.

So, Remember to #SlowDownForWildlife at these caracal crossings!
And if you can, please consider donating to the Back A Buddy campaign (https://www.backabuddy.co.za/public-shows-of-reflection) to help make and set up more of these amazing artworks. They work!
#PublicShowsOfReflection #WildlifeCrossing #RoadEcology #scienceandart #urbanwildlife #wildlifeconservation #urbanecology #capetown

Top image credit: Anton Crone

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