May 2023

April is Impala Season


April is Impala Season

The time has come for the change of seasons to set in and with it this brings other changes such as the terrain, weather, and animal behaviour, not only with mammals but there are certain other species that are affected by the change of season too. Migratory birds start to leave and the behaviour of certain insect species change too.

In this article I would like to discuss one animal in particular, the impala. The time has come for their rutting season to start and this is an extremely interesting topic to learn about. This behaviour is typically experienced at this time of year and the peak would usually be in May with it ending off in June when the females become pregnant and all the craziness begins to die down.

Days become shorter, mornings are becoming cooler and the blankets and seat warmers are starting to be used to their full potential. Coffee breaks are thoroughly enjoyed as a chance to slow down and warm up and appreciate all the sounds and views that the spectacular Sabi Sand Nature Reserve has to offer. This is often when we hear the guttural sounds of the impala rams as they fight and herd the receptive females so that they can eventually mate and bring on a new generation of impala to continue the cycle of nature.

Testosterone and energy are high and the dominant males will engage in fights that can lead to their death. Dominant rams will try to protect their herds, and bachelors will fight to try and claim rights to a herd of their own. Only the impala rams have horns (essentially a bony structure that is fused to the skull and is covered in a protective keratin layer) and use them to battle out dominance during this time. Horns will often break or be damaged and they will not grow back after this. This is different to the antlers of deer which will shed and grow back when damaged or broken.

The social structure of impala is called a ‘harem’ and this will consist of one dominant male and various females, and in some cases younger males that are subservient to the dominant male. The fighting that takes place during this time will determine the top rams and they will each acquire a harem of their own. After this mating will take place over a period of about two weeks.

During this time impala rams are often killed in high numbers by predators as they are distracted by their own behaviour and it gives the predators a huge opportunity to take advantage of their distraction - often in their bouts of chasing one another around and fighting the predators will be lying in wait and the impala rams will run directly into them.

By Andrew Taylor
Field Guide