Contested natures: Caracals, cats and the boundaries of nature in the Atlantic Beach Estate, South Africa

Year: 2019
Working paper number: 428
Author: Nicoli Nattrass
Unit: SSU

In the mid-2010s, residents of the Atlantic Beach Estate (ABE) – a relatively high-income residential and golf estate about 20 kilometres north of Cape Town on the South African west coast – became embroiled in a dispute over how to respond to a caracal (Caracal caracal), or perhaps caracals, killing domestic cats (Felis catus). Caracals are increasingly noticed in urban Cape Town. The ABE, with capacity and interest in monitoring wildlife, offers the first clear example of what caracal presence in residential areas might mean for domestic animals, people and other wildlife. The paper draws on a survey of ABE residents to show that the attitudes of residents tended to cluster into three ‘world-views’ about how to live with pets and nature in the ABE. Just over half (53.4%) had a ‘pro-nature without cats’ world view, that is, they were opposed to removing the caracal and in favour of restricting cats to their owner’s property. Almost a fifth (19.2%) had a ‘pro-nature with free cats’ world view (were opposed to removing the caracal and were opposed to restricting domestic cats to their owner’s properties). Just over a fifth (20.7%) of the sample had a ‘protect free cats from caracals’ world view (wanted the caracal removed and to allow cats to roam freely). At stake was not whether to live in or with nature, but what kind of nature was suitable for an eco-friendly estate. Some residents worried that the caracal posed a threat not only to their pets/companion animals, but also to children (though this view was not supported by conservation officials). Most residents, however, valued the presence of the caracal and as the debate evolved, more critical attention was placed on the impact of domestic cats on small wildlife within the ABE. Some residents built walled gardens and ‘catios’ (enclosed areas attached to the house) for their cats to keep them safe as the debate simmered on over how to live with nature in a family- and pet-friendly eco-conscious housing estate. 

Publication file: WP428 Nattrass