On the sprawling expanse of the southern Namibian farmlands, an apex predator is under attack.
Livestock farmers are killing the Namibian Caracal, a medium-sized carnivore and apex predator for the region. What they do not know is that the caracal is a better friend for them than enemy: the cats’ diets are very specific and can be swayed easily away from livestock. Caracals that do not prey on the livestock then protects the territory from other predators that would.
The caracal belongs to the caracal lineage that diverged almost nine and a half million years ago, making it one of the oldest members within the felidae family. It is a medium-sized carnivore that the research community knows very little about in the wild.
The caracal ranges throughout Africa and into Asia – covering a good expanse in the Middle East. In that range, there are nine subspecies.
“What I find interesting is that the Namibian caracal is currently listed as a distinct subspecies,” says Aletris Neils, the lead researcher of the project. “This is based on morphometrics and may not be true.”
Between March and April this month, award-winning photographer and cinematographer Joshua Morgan from Tucson, Ariz., will be spending his time documenting the plight and conflict regarding Namibian Caracal conservation in the southern region of Namibia, South Africa.
Morgan will be working to document the work of Aletris Neils, a burgeoning young researcher in mammalian conservation. Neils is working to raise awareness for the role the caracal, an apex predator in the local ecosystems of the southern Namibian farmlands.
Neils also found that the caracal has very specific dietary preferences and may only hunt specific animals that it has a taste for. Many caracals don’t have a taste for livestock and may actually be hunting smaller predators in the region that are feeding on the livestock. If the caracal population is decimated, the regulatory system of the area will lose its apex predator, which would open up the floodgates for even more loss of livestock.
Despite the long history with human interaction, there is very little research done and virtually very little known about caracals. In Neils’ research, she hopes to gain a better understanding of their ecology, while raising the awareness of these cats in the southern Namibian ranches - their last stronghold, according to Neils.
There in lies the issue. Because the ranchers know even less than the researchers about the caracal ecology and habits, the knee-jerk reaction is to kill the animals on sight. Ranchers are also using traps that resemble bear traps that snaps shut on the leg of any animal that steps into it, leaving the animal to die slowly from either blood loss, dehydration, or attack from predators. Another, and more heinous trap, is constructed over burrows and rigged with an automatic weapon that would fire when triggered. More than just caracals are being killed by this tactic.
The Caracal Cat Documentary Project arose from the need to raise awareness for these cats and to document the important and groundbreaking research Neils is conducting in southern Namibia, South Africa.
The documentary will follow Neils’ work and her attempts to foster a dialogue with the local farmers and ranchers to raise their awareness of what these cats can do for them.
The Caracal Cat documentary is undergoing fundraising before Josh Morgan leaves for Namibia to meet with Neils, during and after he returns.
Right now, one of their fundraisers is quickly coming to an end on Kickstarter.
Josh Morgan, @jfpmorganj, is an award-winning photo and videojournalist from Southern Arizona. Morgan is an undergraduate at the University of Arizona, studying journalism and digital media. Morgan, originally from Sierra Vista, Ariz., moved to Tucson for college and has been one of the most active visual storytellers in Tucson. He has interned for the local Tucson Weekly and is a graduate of the New York Times Student Journalism Institute. Morgan will be the cinematographer for the Caracal Cat Documentary Project in southern Namibia, South Africa.