UPDATE 11 July, 2016: "The City of Cape Town successfully captured and relocated the caracal that was responsible for the recent spate of endangered African penguin fatalities ...

The female caracal was successfully trapped at approximately 19:00 on Friday, 8 July 2016, at the south end of Froggy Pond. The animal was tranquilised in the cage and examined by a local veterinarian. It was found to be a healthy adult female and the veterinarian confirmed that the caracal was not lactating. The cat, which was fitted with a tracking collar, was transported back to her original roaming territory in the Table Mountain National Park and released. It has been confirmed that the cat has settled down and its movements will be monitored." - City of Cape Town

The penguins on South Africa's Cape coast have had a pretty rough time lately. Just last month, a local leopard went on a killing spree, wiping out no fewer than 33 of the endangered birds. Now, a second cat has earned its penguin-killing stripes.

Caracal Cameratrap 1 2016 07 06
The culprit caught on camera. Image © City of Cape Town

Camera-trap photos from the City of Cape Town have confirmed that a large caracal is the culprit responsible for the deaths of 20 African penguins in the last two weeks near Simon's Town, just 100 kilometres from the site of last month's incident at the Stony Point Nature Reserve in Betty's Bay.

The wild cat, believed to be a young male*, was caught on camera carrying out evening raids on the local penguin colony. According to reports, the caracal made four separate visits, taking out somewhere between three and ten birds during each sweep.

Simons Town Map 2016 07 06
Last month, a leopard killed 33 penguins at Betty's Bay. The caracal attack took place about 100km away in Simon's Town.

For city officials, the presence of a naturally occurring predator is a welcome one, but the large number of birds killed is cause for concern, and plans are now in the works to capture the cat in order to relocate it somewhere less ... penguin-y.

Much like its larger feline cousin from across the bay, the caracal killed more prey than it could eat. It’s a phenomenon called surplus killing (or henhouse syndrome), and it’s pretty bad news for the penguins on South Africa's Cape coastline. Surplus killing happens "when prey species are confined and defenceless," Dr Bool Smuts, director of the Landmark Foundation told The Guardian in response to last month's attack. Much like livestock in a pen, penguins gather in groups and are easy pickings for a predator, provided the birds do not retreat to the safety of the water.

"In consultation with our partners, namely SANParks, CapeNature and various caracal experts, we have decided to trap the caracal using standard methods," city officials explained in a press release. "If successful, the animal will be collared with a radio-tracking device and moved away from the penguin colony, but still within its current home range."

Park rangers and penguin monitors (best job title ever?) have been working overtime recently to deter the cat from any further bird-nabbing. Other "passive mitigation measures" might also include the use of pepper spray, dog patrols and scent-marking the area with collected lion scat, as was the case with the Betty's Bay leopard.

"We will continue with monitoring by means of camera traps and foot patrols and urge members of the public not to tamper with any of the equipment installed in the area‚" the city added.

Predatory species like caracals can be indicators of ecosystem health, so understanding how these cats survive in built-up areas helps us to assess the region's overall biodiversity.

Research from wildlife biologist and founder of the Urban Caracal Project, Dr Laurel Serieys, shows that young male cats often move around to find territories unoccupied by older, more dominant individuals, so this caracal might be looking to settle down in the area (can’t say we blame him, there’s a penguin buffet just around the corner). It's also possible that he's just passing through and picking up a snack on the way. Camera trap footage from May showed a pair of caracals about five kilometres south of the kill site.

Eking out an urban existence in the mountains surrounding South Africa's tourism capital can be tough for a caracal. "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 tells News24.

Throw in the genetic problems that come with fragmented habitats, potential harm from eating poisoned rodents and the risk of disease from domestic animals, and you've got some tough odds. And yet these resilient cats seem to be surviving, and public support for research initiatives like the Urban Caracal Project is helping to make a difference.

*Note: Although the caracal was originally thought to be a young male, later reports revealed that the animal is female.