Impalas are one of the commonest Antelope species you will encounter during Uganda safaris. They are sexually dimorphic medium-sized Antelopes that belong to the family of Bovidae.
These animals inhabit most parts of Southern and eastern Africa. Impalas were first described by a German Zoologist called Martin Hinrich Carl Lichtenstein in 1812 therefore categorizing them into two sub-species that include the black-faced Impalas (A.M. petersi) and the Common Impalas, scientifically known as A.M.melampus with the former native to south-western Africa and the latter occupying the South and east African savannah plains.
They have glossy reddish-brown coats with white under parts. Interestingly, m-shaped black strips run through their behinds and males have horns, and noticeable larger than their female counterparts. Not only that, there are black stripes on their foreheads, tip of the ears and tails, rump and foreheads in addition to the white rings around their eyes as well as the muzzle and light chins.
Impalas have slender horns, lyre-shaped and have strong ridges with tips far apart as well as being circular and hollow at the base. A mature male Impala weighs from 53 to 76 kilograms and stand at a height of 75 to 92 centimeters tall at shoulder whereas the mature females are 70 to 85 centimeters tall and weigh between 40 and 53 kilograms.
These Antelopes are about 120 to 160 centimeters long from head to tail and occupy the savannah grasslands and woodlands near water sources and known to be mixed foragers with their diet mainly consisting of monocots, foliage, grasses, dicots and forbs among others.
Impalas change between browsing and grazing depending on the habitat and season of the year and are normally active immediately after dawn and before dusk. They spend part of their night resting and feeding as well and always stop feeding when raining, and gather while facing the opposite direction of the wind as they begin chewing the cud.
These small antelopes are fast runners and popular for their leaping ability of reaching up to 3 meters high and over 10 meters long.
They communicate through vocal and visual methods, mainly by making loud roars and placing scent-trails. Female Impalas usually lead the herds while their male counterparts offer protection from behind. The leader of the herd will first stop and check the neighborhood for any danger and will raise the ears to capture any sounds from the surrounding areas while the others rest and wait for communication. When a strange object is sighted, the male Impala will try moving closer to take a critical look.
When Impalas detect danger or see predators, they will run into the dense vegetation to hide from the enemy which is different from other antelopes that run in the open.
Surprisingly, the social behaviors of these antelopes highly depends on the season in that during the wet season, they make up three different groups that include the territorial males, the bachelor herds made up of around 30 members and the females herds comprising of 15 to 200 individuals with no particular leader but eventually mix during the dry season, Isn’t this fascinating?
During the mating period, male Impalas prefer staying in smaller herds which makes it easy to defend and reclaim their former mates. The males do their best to protect any female from moving outside its territory by adding it in the herd and leading it to the center of the herd. Conflicts and fights always happen between the males for mainly territorial dominance during the mating period.
Their gestation period is between 6 and 7 months although can delay birth for additional months if the conditions for giving births are not favorable. They normally give birth to one fawn that will be protected for few weeks before finally joining the herd with the mother. After becoming part of the herd, they join the nursery group and only go to the mother for nursing or maybe when the enemy attacks.
The young ones are weaned after four to six months and the mature males are forced out of the herd to join the bachelor herds. Females reach sexual maturity at 12 months much as they will only mate when they are 4 years old.
The common predators are Hyenas, lions, cheetahs, leopards and hunting dogs in addition to humans. They are currently categorized by IUCN under the Red List of animals of least concern. Their life span is approximately 12 years in the wild and can live beyond that while in captivity. In Uganda, the Impalas can only be seen within Lake Mburo National Park hence worth exploring on Uganda safaris.