Anything but ordinary
ou could set your calendar to the social behaviour of impalas. Every year in February, adult impala males (four years and older) start splitting off from their bachelor herds to form temporary territories of their own – a process that lasts until the end of April. They mark their territory by defecating in middens, pasting gland secretions from their foreheads and by their distinctive roars and coughs that can be heard throughout the night. (I’ve often had to convince safari guests that the “roar” they’re hearing is actually a benign antelope and not some fierce predator!) Female herds are non-territorial and move freely though males’ territories. When a female herd arrives, the males do their utmost to keep them in the area while attempting to mate at the same time. This is tiring work and the dominant male loses condition quickly. This is when other males might try to oust the territory holder – an ousted male will join a bachelor group consisting of non-breeding males. After the rut, the territorial urge diminishes and the males rejoin their bachelor groups, where more eyes and ears offer better protection against predators. The females give birth from November, after a sevenmonth gestation period. It’s a common misconception that females can hold their unborn young inside until conditions are suitable. No animal has control over the growth rate of a foetus. Towards the end of November and December, the bush comes alive as lambs are born within weeks of one another. This creates a feast for predators, but the market is flooded to such an extent that enough lambs are able to reach sub-adulthood and avoid becoming prey. Predators like jackals and lions feast on impala. As a result, the antelope have well-developed escape measures in place. Individuals warn the herd when a threat is nearby. Should something spook the herd, the various animals will scatter in different directions to confuse the predators. It is believed that a gland on the impala’s hind leg (it looks like a black spot) releases a scent that helps the herd regroup after an attack. So next time you pass yet another herd of impala – sometimes called the McDonalds of the Bush – take a moment to marvel at all the features that make them so successful.