A few years ago, an orphaned baby caracal had the luck to find her way into our family. The reason I say “luck”, despite the obvious misfortune she suffered from losing her mother, is that there was never going to be any question as to where she would end up eventually; she was always going to return, once mature, to where her mother had lived and hunted before her untimely death.

Rearing a caracal is a bit of a specialised task. They are challenging creatures; whilst quite capable of being really sweet and loving, a caracal is by no means a meek and mild animal. And when there are disagreements… well, quite simply, then there is blood. Not caracal blood; human blood.

A caracal fails to see any object valued by their human house mates as sacred in any way. A shoe, a book, a piece of clothing, a couch, expensive binoculars… if it feels good on the teeth, it will be shredded with gusto. And when the human wants to take it away, well, there is blood. Even at 8 weeks of age, the 11th caracal command is simple: Thou shalt bleed.

So be prepared for many shredded items. Be prepared to be angry often, if briefly… And be prepared to bleed. At the same time, be prepared to have a loving relationship with one of the most loving cats around… A contrast which led to her official name: Maleficent. She was, at once, the embodiment of all that is malevolent, and all that is magnificent.

She was just over 6 weeks when I started walking her on a long leash, to which she took easily. As she got older, she decided against the leash, though, and walked on her own – but always staying close to me.

Yes, that’s right – she decided. You see, a caracal is not a dog. A caracal may well like you, but she does not obey you. With typical feline aplomb, she calls the shots.

So, there we’d be, walking in the mountain, me showing her the territory, the caves where she may one day have babies, the dassie hang-outs, the guinea fowl’s drinking spots… and then, suddenly, she’ll be gone. I would sit down for a few minutes, then quietly get up and stalk away… and then, suddenly, “prup!” – she’d call. My little whistle would have her bound in, just until she sees me, and suddenly she’ll completely ignore me again. Just happen to be walking in the same area, you know!

Back home, tired, she would play the perfect house cat for my wife; the two of them had a very different relationship, lying together, curled up, purring… I would be forgotten, ignored.

Around this time we were asked to rear a little serval with malformed feet. They became friends for a while, but his absolutely fantastic story I shall tell later. This is her story.

Over the next few months, she became proficient in hunting game birds and scrub hares. She started staying away… one night, then three nights, then five. Always returning as if she had never been away. I would walk around at night with a torch, calling, looking for the two bright emeralds bounding towards me as her eyes reflected the torchlight, waiting for the “prup!

Eventually, she would stay away for 10 days. Then three weeks. And then, 11 months after she came into our lives, she left and did not return. I find her spoor, occasionally, in places we used to frequent; but she comes home no more. Her home is the wild.

In story books, she would come and show off her first litter. Reality is more pragmatic, less romantic.

I am happy. This Maleficent creature lives the life she deserves. She is a wild caracal, living in a wild mountain. Does she still think of us? Perhaps not. What matters is only that she is free, and doing what she was designed to do.

That is what I call success.

Rehabiliting a caracal: She now lives independant and free in the mountain...

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