It is almost November which means that within the next few weeks, the female impalas will start dropping their lambs. These tiny versions of their parents are without a doubt one of the cutest animals to see on safari in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve. Sadly, not everyone sees them as adorable photo opportunities, the predators also know it’s lambing season and start licking their lips with anticipation of the feast that is about to begin.
Impalas are synchronized breeders (which is part of the problem), at the beginning of the wet season, all the females will all start to give birth usually within a few days of each other. In theory, this is supposed to give the impala calves the best chance at survival, by the sheer safety in numbers. However, it also means that there are plenty of helpless youngsters around from which almost all predators can take advantage, from Martial Eagles to lions.
However, the lambs learn to run and jump with the herd within a few hours of birth, this ability and agility are really helpful when they need to escape from predators. An adult impala can leap as far as ten meters, for an animal that is just over one and a half meters long that is pretty impressive! Interestingly, while they are fleeing, they release a scent from the glands on their heels which helps them to stick together.
Generally, impalas form three types of herds: All female herds (at times dominated by a single ram who may change), bachelor herds, and family groups led by dominant males. Something rather fascinating is that even though the rams are the dominant sex there is far more female impala than males in the world, there are twice as many females born every year.
Rams only become territorial for about four months of the year, during this period they will fiercely protect their females and youngsters. However, if they lose their dominant position to another male, they will be forced to join a bachelor herd.
Male impalas advertise their status to other rams through a scent gland on their foreheads. Throughout the breeding season rams fight for status and territory, when they lose rank, they produce less scent from this gland. Only Impala rams boast magnificent Lyre-shaped ring horns which can reach up to 75cm in length. It takes many years for these horns to reach full height, which is when the rams can begin to fight for dominance.
So, maybe now you will consider the impala in a different light, not simply as “the MacDonalds of the bush”, but rather as one of the more interesting and underestimated herbivores of the bush.