Treetop hunt ends in a 50-foot tumble for tussling wild cats

It’s a rough-and-tumble cat fight in Africa’s Kalahari Desert!

While cruising along a gravel track in the semi-arid sandveld of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park recently, field guide Warrick Davies spotted a caracal lying at the base of a camel-thorn tree, its gaze fixed upwards at the branches.

“We thought it was watching birds flying around in the tree,” Davies told StoryTrender. “But on closer inspection, we noticed there was an African wildcat perched high up in the branches.”

Caracals are formidable predators capable of tackling prey two or three ᴛι̇ɱes their own size. The medium-sized cats typically do their hunting on the ground, using their powerful rear legs to launch themselves several feet into the air in pursuit of prey, usually a bird of some variety.

This caracal, however, had lofty aspirations: it scrambled up the camel thorn in an attempt to nab the smaller cat, which was balancing precariously on the thin outer boughs. With no escape route in sight, the African wildcat hurled itself into the air and plunged at least 50 feet (15 metres) towards the sandy ground below. The caracal followed in hot pursuit, treating Davies to a dual display of feline acrobatics.

“I lost view of the cats as they ran through the grass … but moments later they reappeared, with the caracal snatching and killing the wildcat,” Davies recalls.

Although an “aerial” escape plan like this one may seem like a risky option, cats are built for these kinds of high-flying ɱaпoeuvres, and it’s likely that both felines were uninjured in the descent. “Being able to survive falls is a critical thing for animals that live in trees, and cats are one of them,” Dr Jake Socha, a biomechanist at Virginia Tech University, explained to the BBC back in 2012.

There are several records of cats tumbling from staggering heights only to walk away relatively unscathed. (In one such tale, a domestic feline fell 32 storeys from a high-rise building and landed on concrete down below. The damage? A chipped tooth and a collapsed lung.)

This almost mystical ability of cats to survive such significant falls comes down to feline physiology, evolutionary biology and good ol’ physics. A study published in 1987 used data from a New York City emergency veterinary clinic to determine the extent of injuries on cats that had fallen from high-rise buildings. The vast majority survived, leading the researchers to deduce that these nimble animals are built to take a tumble.