Stuck in a rut

by Ranger, Robyn Sewell

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Impalas locking horns
The Impala Aepyceros melampus

At MalaMala

The month of April has brought with it the impala rutting season. It is the time of year, signalled by the shorter days and longer nights of Autumn, where we see the adult male impalas being completely intolerant of one another, especially in the presence of females in oestrus.

Testosterone levels begin to skyrocket in January as the adult male impalas (rams) start leaving their bachelor herds in order to establish their own territories. This often leads to some rather serious fights between rams. We often see them vocalising (a deep guttural sound) and chasing one another around as they ‘display’ themselves. Should they be evenly matched, with neither participant backing down, they will then lock horns in a battle for territory and mating rights.

As the herds of female impalas (ewes) pass through a victorious ram’s territory, he will take that opportunity to mate with as many as possible. Rams can often be seen chasing the ewes and some say that this could also be the male trying to herd the females away from another male.

Impala rams will spend so much time chasing others, fighting and mating that they begin to lose condition and become exhausted quickly. They also get so distracted by the task at hand that they become very easy targets for predators such as lions, cheetahs, Cape hunting dogs, and leopards. The next time you view these predators during the rut watch how quickly they react to the sound of clattering horns… it’s like a dinner bell!

Once the rutting season has ended we see the impala rams tolerating one another again as they re-form bachelor herds. After a gestation period of nearly seven months, the ewes remove themselves from the herd and give birth in a secluded spot. The mother will then remain nearby her lamb and only return every-so-often to suckle. After a few days the lamb will start to follow its mum around but will dart for cover at any sign of danger. Once the lamb has mastered its long spindly legs it will be led back to the safety of the herd.

The number of impalas almost doubles within a short period of weeks as almost every impala ewe gives birth to one lamb. We call this the “time of plenty’’ as it also coincides with the first rains. Sadly, it is estimated that up to fifty percent of the impala lambs will be lost to predators within the first few weeks of the lambing season. Luckily for the impalas this strategy of ‘’flooding the market’’ with young means that they’re still successful, despite the huge number of lambs predated upon.

I hope that this short article will help enhance your next sighting of this common but incredible species, a species that has gone virtually unchanged over the last five million years. They really are the perfect antelope.

Travelling to MalaMala