Otter’s Bend Lodge in Franschhoek is probably Beezus’ true happy space. Apart from Mark, Mary & Ollie Heistein who he adores, it is an exciting, friendly and unpretentious place. He even gets on with Alex the Doberman, but less so with Sheba the Ridgeback. Maybe he’s just too much, too feisty and too confident for her.
One evening I saw an unusual shape moving through the pear orchard right in front of the house. And the I realised it was a Caracal – but seeing a live one was very different to the stuffed one at the Simonsberg Conservancy’s office at DelVera (where I have to cover Beezus’ eyes when we walk past it). I’d been warned about them in Banhoek because a friend’s cat was taken by one there. I’ve been a little nervous about them (for Beezus’ safety) ever since. It has the mystical quality of most wild animals.
The following morning I took Beezus out to water the garden and the Caracal suddenly appeared in the driveway, and started walking towards me… not furtively or aggressively, but seemingly inquisitive. Beezus had been off to one side but when he came around and saw it, he took off after it like a pack of wild dogs… or made enough noise for a whole pack of wild dogs in a murderous mood.
I’ve seen him do this before in Fouriesburg in the Freestate, where he chased two Dobermans across the fields because they wanted to interfere with his game with an Anatolian Shepherd dog.
Anyway… the Caracal disappeared.
The following day, after his early morning walk, Beezus decided he wanted to go back to bed and went to sleep. He woke half and hour later making the anguished noises which mean there’s something out there he’s got to get! I got up to look outside and there, about 300 metres away, I saw something jumped through the long grass – a small buck perhaps? No, it was the Caracal again heading towards the furthest boundary of the farm.
Five minutes later I looked up from the laptop through the window, and there it was about 8 metres in front of me! I grabbed the camera to get a decent photo this time… but its battery was flat…
What have I discovered about Caracals? It is a wild cat widely distributed across Africa, Central Asia, and Southwest Asia into India. The specific name is attributed to the German scientist Johann Christian Daniel von Schreber who described Felis caracal in 1776 from a specimen collected near the Table Mountain. The generic name Caracal was first used by the British naturalist John Edward Gray in 1843 on the basis of a type specimen collected near the Cape of Good Hope. They weigh between 7.0 & 16kg. They live mainly on prey smaller than 5kg, including hyraxes, springhares, gerbils, mice, and birds. They are capable of taking antelopes, including species such as mountain reedbuck, springbok, common duiker and steenbok.
Historically, caracals have been used in India for hunting and blood sports. A popular sport in India was to have a captive caracal set upon a flock of pigeons, whereupon bets were made on how many birds could be taken down by the cat. A practiced caracal could ground as many as a dozen birds. Today, as well as in the past, caracals have occasionally been kept as exotic pets in Africa, India, North America and elsewhere. It has been claimed caracals are “suitable as pets” because they are “easily tamed”, but caracals have also been claimed to attack people other than their owner. Caracals appear to have held some religious significance for the ancient Egyptians. They were found in wall paintings, their bodies embalmed, and sculptures of caracals and other cats guarded tombs.
And then there’s Mac, the horse. He doesn’t take kindly to a saddle or a person on his back, but he’s in his element pulling a carriage which he does with aplomb. He also doesn’t like dogs but suprised everyone by taking to Beezus.
The moment Mac sees Beezus, he runs up and starts nuzzling him gently. At first, Beezus was very apprehensive (and so was I, ready to scoop him up!) and growled softly but allowed the horse to continue. He’s happier about it now.
Some days, Mac comes and whinnies at the door for Beezus to come out. When I walk down the drive, Mac comes trotting up, and I carry Beezus because I worry about those hooves. So Mac walks alongside us nuzzling Beezus’ fur.
As Mark asked, “What makes Beezus different to all other dogs?” I can only think that it is because he was raised by a wolf, and has many characteristics he learnt from Akela.