The IMPALA is a medium-sized antelope. The vernacular name “IMPALA” comes from the Zulu language meaning “gazelle.” The scientific name is derived from the Greek words ‘aipos’ (high), ‘ceros’ (horn), ‘melas’ (black) and ‘pous’ (foot). Up to 6 sub-species have been described, although only 2 are usually recognised ——- the common and the black-faced impala. While the former is abundant throughout southern and eastern Africa, the latter is restricted to south-western Africa.
Only the males are ‘horned’. The horns consist of BONE CORES, surrounded by a covering of ‘keratin’ and other ‘proteins,’ and are, often, ‘curved’ or ‘spiral’ in shape. The males are also, noticeably, larger than the females. The coat is glossy reddish-brown. The red hue fades away towards the animal’s sides and the underside is white. Facial features include white rings around the eyes, as well as a light chin and muzzle. There are black stripes on the forehead, rump and tail. The ears are also tipped with black. The Impala has a strong resemblance to the ‘Gerenuk”, in terms of colouration. However, the Gerenuk has shorter horns and lacks the black thigh stripes of the Impala.
The Impala has scent glands covered by the black tuft of hair on the back feet. Sebaceous glands are concentrated on the forehead and dispersed on the torso of dominant males. The forehead glands, present in males, are most active during the mating season, while those of the female are only partially developed and do not undergo seasonal changes. The horns have strong ridges and the tips are far apart. They are ‘circular’ in section and ‘hollow’ at the base. Their arch-like structure helps the animal to interlock the horns and throw off the opponent. These also protect the cranium from damage.
Impalas are ‘diurnal’, most active after dawn and before dusk. They spend the night feeding and resting. They use various kinds of unique visual, olfactory and auditory communication, most notably laying scent-trails and giving loud roars. The roaring process consists of 1 to3 ‘loud snorts’ with mouth closed, followed by 2 to 10 ‘deep grunts’ with an open mouth, lifted chin and upraised tail. The most characteristic movement of the Impala is its UNIQUE LEAP. When alarmed, they run at very high speeds and jump to heights of 3m over bushes and even other Impala, covering distances of up to 10m. The Impala has an average life span of about 15yrs in the wild and nearly 17yrs in captivity.
They are important prey-animals to lions, leopards, cheetahs, Cape hunting dogs, spotted hyenas, crocodiles and pythons. An alert and wary animal, the Impala turns motionless —- on sensing danger. It will scan the vicinity, with its eyes, to spot the predator, and rotate its ears —— to catch any tell-tale signs. It stares at and moves its head to get a better view of any object it cannot iidentify. The female, who leads a file of Impala , on the way to drink, often stops and surveys the surroundings—- for danger, while the rest stand relaxed. Unlike other antelopes, who run away in the open, when disturbed, the Impala tries to hide itself in dense vegetation in case of any alarm.
Unlike other antelopes, the Impala is an adaptable forager and does not need to migrate long distances. They generally prefer to have water sources nearby, though they can survive on green succulent vegetation, if water is scarce. Upper incisors and canines are absent in these ruminants and the cheek-teeth are folded and sharp. The diet, of the Impala, consists of 45% monocots, 45% dicots & 10% fruits.
The Impala is native to Angola, Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The largest population occurs in the Masai Mara & Kajiado (Kenya), the Serengeti National Park and Selous Game Reserve (Tanzania), Luangwa Valley (Zambia), Okavango Delta (Botswana), Hwange, Sebungwe and Zambezi Valley (Zimbabwe) and Kruger National Park (South Africa).