Not just a pretty face
The impala is one of the most numerous antelope species in Southern Africa and there are over 140 000 of these animals in the Kruger Park alone. Sadly, because it is seen so regularly on game drives, the impala quickly loses its appeal, becoming a 'drive by' species within the first day of most safaris.
Just about every predator species preys on the impala and it is considered little more than cannon fodder due to their large numbers, their M-shaped markings are often likened to the logo of a well fast food chain branding them as the fast food of the bushveld. As such, the impala plays a major role in the food chain, and this attractive little antelope must be applauded for maintaining such high population figures.
The impala has several tricks in its arsenal of survival tactics which ensure that it continues to thrive in the face of these odds.
Firstly there is safety in numbers and herds of impala with up to 150 members have been recorded. More eyes and ears ensure an earlier warning system in the event of danger, and the sight of numerous impala fleeing in several directions at once is highly confusing to any pursuer.
Impalas can reach speeds of up to 80km an hour for several hundred metres, and even the speedy cheetah can only keep up with them for a few paces. Scent glands on the impala legs release an oily pheromone during their high-kicking retreat which lays a trail which serves to keep the herd together during flight, especially at night.
Almost every year, nearly all the impala lambs are born during the last two weeks of November, to coincide with the rainy season. These youngsters are considered a delicacy and are at extremely high risk of predation right from the outset. Once again, these large numbers give each individual lamb a statistically higher chance of survival. If the rains come later than normal the final stage of the development of the foetus slows due to the poorer nutritional status of the mother. This delays the birth of the lamb and ensures that the mother is well nourished when the lamb is born up to 3 weeks late.
Impala are classed and mixed feeders and can switch from grazing to browsing and back again, depending on what is available. They practice highly effective mutual grooming techniques which practically eliminate the presence of parasites from their peers, and are able to survive on grazing that many species turn their nose up at.
The next time you are on a game drive, take some time to admire this hardy species which has survived practically unchanged since the Miocene epoch, some 6 million years ago.
Your game guide will be happy to fill you in on the intricacies of these amazing creatures.