An aerial trip over Cape Town is guaranteed to deliver memorable panoramas of the dramatic mountains that cradle its City Bowl. An encounter with the area’s wildlife, however, is an added bonus. Yesterday, just before hurling themselves off Lion’s Head – a 669-metre (2,195-feet) sandstone-topped peak between Table Mountain and Signal Hill that forms part of the city’s mountainous backdrop – two paragliders enjoyed a visit from a russet-coloured wild cat.

The caracal – seemingly unconcerned by the stunned onlookers – spent the next ten minutes rummaging through the nearby fynbos and skulking across the launch mat laid out by Louis Stanford and his gliding buddy, Iain.

"When we arrived at the launch at 6h30, Iain spotted the caracal in the bushes, feeding on something," Stanford told local outlet News24. "It disappeared for a few minutes, then suddenly reappeared on the mat, unperturbed by our presence. It stayed near us for about ten minutes, before heading down the mountain towards Clifton."

Although caracals are found throughout Africa, as well as in central and south-west Asia, the tuft-eared predators are notoriously elusive and generally shy away from people. This bold cat may be young and inexperienced, or it may be showing some signs of habituation courtesy of human-supplied handouts.

Cape Town is a stronghold for these adaptable felines, which have learned to eke out an urban existence in the mountains enfolding South Africa's tourism capital. In 2015, a blue-eyed cat, later nicknamed Azure, was humanely captured and collared by the Urban Caracal Project – a research initiative headed up by wildlife biologist Dr Laurel Serieys to learn more about these urban-adapted cats. Azure surprised the research team when she was tracked roaming the Lion’s Head area some 20 kilometres south of her capture site.

As these cats roam through pockets of wilderness abutting areas of development, they run a gauntlet of threats. "To persist in Table Mountain National Park, caracals must travel across roads to find sufficient prey and potential mates, and so in this need, they are vulnerable to vehicle collision," Dr Serieys explained to News24 back in 2015. In addition to the threat posed by cars, urban caracals must contend with the risks of eating poisoned rodents, the genetic problems that can come with fragmented habitats, and the possibility of contracting disease from domestic animals.

At least 26 individuals have been fitted with tracking collars since the project was launched in 2014. Despite their opportunistic and incredibly adaptive nature, some of these cats have since succumbed to the pressures of urban living. Many others, however, continue to provide the project with vital intel about just how these animals have adjusted to their role as apex predators in an expanding cityscape.

Sightings like this one can help us to better understand the ecology and behavioural patterns of these secretive felines. 

Spotted a caracal recently? Let us know!