Impala is an elegant and magnificent species of antelope. The animal has a slender body with the identifying “M”-like marking on the rear. This medium-sized antelope possesses thin, pointed horns with tips, lying far apart from each other. Males of this species are identified by the characteristic “S”-like horns. The elegant limbs of these animals have scent glands behind the ankles.
Read the below article to know about the Impala which is an elegant and magnificent species of antelope as discussed by Pritish Kumar Halder.
The overall coloration of their fur is red-brown with paler sides. In addition, they have black and white colored areas on their body. Thus, the tail, belly, chin, lips, inside ears as well as the lines above the eyes are colored with white. Meanwhile, black bands cover their thighs, tail, forehead and ear tips.
Impalas are distributed throughout northeastern part of South Africa, Angola, southern Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya.
Close proximity to a water source is an important life condition for these animals. Generally, they prefer woodland with little undergrowth as well as low to medium height grassland.
The impala is a medium-sized, slender antelope similar to the kob or Grant’s gazelle in build. The head-and-body length is around 130 centimetres (51 in). Males reach approximately 75–92 centimetres (30–36 in) at the shoulder, while females are 70–85 centimetres (28–33 in) tall. Males typically weigh 53–76 kilograms (117–168 lb) and females 40–53 kilograms (88–117 lb). Sexually dimorphic, females are hornless and smaller than males.
Males grow slender, lyre-shaped horns 45–92 centimetres (18–36 in) long. The horns, strongly ridged and divergent, are circular in section and hollow at the base. Their arch-like structure allows interlocking of horns, which helps a male throw off his opponent during fights; horns also protect the skull from damage.
The glossy coat of the impala shows two-tone colouration – the reddish brown back and the tan flanks; these are in sharp contrast to the white underbelly. Facial features include white rings around the eyes and a light chin and snout. The ears, 17 centimetres (6.7 in) long, are tipped with black. Black streaks run from the buttocks to the upper hindlegs. The bushy white tail, 30 centimetres (12 in) long, features a solid black stripe along the midline.
The impala’s colouration bears a strong resemblance to the gerenuk, which has shorter horns and lacks the black thigh stripes of the impala. The impala has scent glands covered by a black tuft of hair on the hindlegs. Sebaceous glands concentrated on the forehead and dispersed on the torso of dominant males are most active during the mating season, while those of females are only partially developed and do not undergo seasonal changes. There are four nipples.
Of the subspecies, the black-faced impala is significantly larger and darker than the common impala; melanism is responsible for the black colouration. Distinctive of the black-faced impala is a dark stripe, on either side of the nose, that runs upward to the eyes and thins as it reaches the forehead. Other differences include the larger black tip on the ear, and a bushier and nearly 30% longer tail in the black-faced impala.
The impala has a special dental arrangement on the front lower jaw similar to the toothcomb seen in strepsirrhine primates, which is used during allogrooming to comb the fur on the head and the neck and remove ectoparasites.
Habits and Lifestyle
These antelopes are both diurnal and nocturnal. They are most active just after sunrise and before sunset, socializing and moving with their herd, whereas, during the nighttime hours, impalas usually lie down and ruminate. Female impalas and their offspring gather into herds, containing from 15 to 100 individuals. The home range of each herd covers a territory, varying from 80 to 180 hectares. During the wet season, females become highly territorial, defending home ranges of their herds. On the other hand, young males form bachelor, non-territorial herds of up to 30 individuals.
During the dry season, male and female herds can often be seen mixed together. Home ranges of mature breeding males vary from season to season. Thus, at the breeding season they usually have smaller home ranges, which they fiercely defend. Males use wide variety of methods to defend their home range, including fighting, tail-raising, chasing, roaring, erect posture as well as forehead marking and forehead rubbing.
Diet and Nutrition
Impalas are herbivores (folivores). As grazers, these antelopes consume grass, while as browsers, they feed upon wide variety vegetation, including fruits, seedpods, shoots as well as leaves of trees and bushes.
Impalas have polygynous mating system, where each male mates with a number of females. The period of peak breeding activity is March-May. During this period, pregnant females live in isolation to give birth. Gestation period lasts from 194 to 200 days, yielding a single calf, which weighs about 5kgs (11 lbs). After a few days, the calf and the female rejoin the herd. Then, after a while, the calf joins a crèche of other young impalas. They are weaned at 4-5 months old.
Male impalas reach sexual maturity at 1 year of age, while females – between 1 and 2 years old. Becoming sexually mature, they, however, do not rush to establish territories. They typically start mating only at 4 years old.
The animals presently suffer from fragmentation of their range due to development of human settlements. In addition, roads such as the Serengeti Highway in Tanzania have an extremely negative affect, making it difficult for scattered migrating populations to move between parks, where the antelopes feed, mate and give birth. In addition, populations in South Africa are exposed to hunting for their meat by local people.
Impalas are fairly common throughout the area of their habitat. Their population is presently stable and estimated to 2,000,000 mature individuals. The species is classified on the IUCN Red List as Least Concern (LC).
These herbivores are the top consumers of their habitat. Living in African savanna, they play a significant role in the local food chain due to feeding upon shrubs and grasses, which give them energy as well as increase their fat and muscles. In addition, impalas, along with other animal species of the area, are key prey items for local predators such as lions, leopards and hyenas.
Fun Facts for Kids
- During the mating season, male impalas compete for status and territory, fighting with their antlers. They give off a scent from a gland on their forehead, which is intended to announce a male’s status to the rival. Losing his rank, the male usually gives off less scent.
- For safety, female impalas typically give birth by noon, the time when most of their enemies rest.
- The word “impala” has Zulu origin and means “gazelle”.
- When running, these unsurpassed leapers are able to jump up to 10 feet high and 33 feet forward.
- When threatened, the animal usually emits barking calls in order to warn the members of the herd.
- On their rump, these antelopes have the identifying “M”-like marking, due to which they are occasionally called “McDonalds of the bush”.