First off, the impala is an animal that you shouldn’t have too much trouble spotting during your safari. The impala has a lovely red coat matched against a white underbelly, which might seem reminiscent of the springbuck, except not as dramatic a contrast between the two.
The impala is sexually dimorphic, which means that the males and females don’t look alike. Where males have horns, the females don’t, and it’s with these lyre-shaped horns that the males fight off their opponents and rivals. The curved arch means the horns become interlocked during a skirmish, potentially saving the male impala from skull damage or serious wounds.
Another characteristic of the impala is the dark black streaks that run from its buttocks down to its upper hindlegs, with a dark stripe down its bushy white tail.
Range & habitat
The impala prefers habitats that don’t have long grasses that could potentially hide predators like lions, but at the same time, they like to inhabit areas with enough shade and a good water source. In Eastern and Southern Africa these environments are found in the form of woodlands and the overlap between woodlands and savannas. Specifically, in Southern Africa, the impala is found in mopane and acacia woodlands. But as the seasons change so does the impala’s preference, and it might choose savannas in dry season and woodlands in the wet.
When it comes to feeding, the impala gets the most out of its environment by not only grazing but browsing as well, feeding on a variety of nutritional sources like fruits and acacia pods. They will even go so far as to nibble on succulent plants in times when water is scarce. During the late wet season, impalas will mostly browse, but as the dry season begins, their diets become nutritionally poorer, with a greater dependence on woody dicots. When grazing, the impala feeds on soft and nutritious grasses, avoiding the tougher, taller grasses in the area.
Behaviour & lifestyle
Like most wild animals, the impala’s behaviours are mostly centered around feeding and reproduction. The impala is most active during the day, feeding and socialising. But when the sun is at its peak during the hottest part of the day, it will rest for a while. At night, impalas may continue feeding, or else simply rest.
There are three distinct impala social groups: territorial males, herds made up of bachelors, and herds of females. A territorial male will hold a territory where it can have its harem of females, marking it with urine and faeces and protecting it from any male intruders.
Bachelor and female herds interact frequently during allogrooming interactions, grooming each other and themselves. As soon as the breeding season begins around the end of the wet season, rutting males will initiate fights amongst each other to determine dominance. A rutting male walks stiffly and displays its horns for all to see. They become rather more interested in their harem, or creating one, even at the expense of feeding. When a male comes across a female that’s ready to mate, he will court her by following her and nodding vigorously. After the first copulation, the male might wander away seeking new mates, while the female is still active and can mate with others. When a calf is born, the female will keep it hidden for a few weeks after its birth, protecting it from potential threats. After a time, the fawn will join an impala nursery group within the herd.
Fun impala facts
- The name ‘impala’ comes from phala, the Tswana word for ‘red antelope’.
- There are two subspecies of impala: the smaller common impala and the darker black-faced impala that is found mostly in Namibia and Angola.
- Impalas and oxpeckers share a symbiotic relationship. The oxpeckers relieve impalas of pesky ticks from hard-to-reach areas such as its ears.
- The impala has two characteristic leaps. It can jump as high as 3 meters, even jumping over other individuals, and covering a distance of 10 meters. Its smaller jumps involve kicking with its hind legs midair and leaping in many different directions, ostensibly to confuse predators.
Meet the impala
What’s your favourite thing about the impala? Have any stories to share about sighting an impala during your African safari? Let us know in the comments below!
Read about more safari animals.
Estes, R.D. (2004). The Behavior Guide to African Mammals: Including Hoofed Mammals, Carnivores, Primates (4th ed.). Berkeley, US: University of California Press. pp. 158–66.
Hart, B.L.; Hart, L.A. (1992). “Reciprocal allogrooming in impala, Aepyceros melampus“. Animal Behaviour. 44 (6): 1073–1083.
“Impala: Aepyceros melampus“. National Geographic. Retrieved 12 June 2020.
Jarman, P.J.; Sinclair, A.R.E. (1984). “Feeding strategy and the pattern of resource partitioning in ungulates”. In Sinclair, A.R.E.; Norton-Griffths, M. (eds.). Serengeti, Dynamics of an Ecosystem. Chicago, US: University of Chicago Press. pp. 130–63.
Kingdon, J.; Happold, D.; Butynski, T.; Happold, M.; Hoffmann, M.; Kalina, J. (2013). Mammals of Africa. London, UK: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. pp. 479–84.
Mooring, M. S.; Hart, B. L. (1995). “Differential grooming rate and tick load of territorial male and female impala”. Behavioral Ecology. 6 (1): 94–101.
Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd edition, March 2005, s.v. pallah
Schenkel, R. (1966). “On sociology and behaviour in impala (Aepyceros melampus) Lichtenstein”. African Journal of Ecology. 4 (1): 99–114.
Skinner, J.D.; Chimimba, C.T. (2005). The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion (3rd ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 703–8.
Stuart, C.; Stuart, T. (2001). Field Guide to Mammals of Southern Africa (3rd ed.). Cape Town, South Africa: Struik Publishers. p. 210.
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