The Incredible Impala (edited)

Updated: Mar 23, 2020

Out here it is two months before the formal hunting season starts. Many folks are returning from the National Reserves having enjoyed nature and viewed the new prodigy that had appeared all over - baby impala, wildebeest, zebra, eland, giraffe, etc - but the impala is the one animal that is typifying Southern Africa Christmas time. Here is why:

They occur in very large numbers, and it is the only mammal (at least in Africa) which has for 20 million years remained virtually unchanged. It also displays the best survival statistics of all mammals. Literally, the only thing that has changed is the design of its teeth: since the introduction of ticks when domestic cattle arrived in Southern Africa the impala's teeth have evolved to allow the animal to "comb" its skin in order to rid it of ticks. For the very same reason they stand in the shade on hot days and groom one another.

Above is a newborn impala lamb, still wobbly on its spindly legs. Ewes go into dense bush to drop their young, often with one previous year's young ewe present.

They browse as well as graze which may be the main reason for their long survival. Another success is their ability to hold back birth for a month, awaiting the rains which in Africa for millions of years arrive unpredictably. In fact they collectively time the birthing to coincide with the new grass sprouts to be just right when the lambs are weaned.

They also have the unique ability to, just before the head of the lamb has protruded, to halt the birthing process and run away from a predator. Impala are the best drought forecasters in Africa as when, for whatever reason there may be a season of no rain they will abort en masse months before the time of the failing rains.

Taking it slowly when viewing the large, combined herds of smaller family groups as they congegrate during and after the three weeks of dropping their lambs - all within days - and before weaning, studying individual animals, the visitor will come to appreciate the beauty of this creature. This slow time also may coincide with seeing the increased predator-impala activity: leopard, hyena, painted wolf, jackal - and then the predator-predator interactions invariably taking place.

Newborns are looked after by the previous season's young females in a créche.

A Rowland Ward++ impala ram. Most PHs will not allow such a ram - which plainly is in the prime of its breeding age - to be shot. The horns say it is 6-7 years old and still in control of his ewes. That genetic source is simply too valuable in the bigger scheme of things to remove.

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