Impala: Far more interesting than you’d think
Updated: Sep 26
This blog about impala was written by Danel Hart. Special topic blogs are written by Bushwise students during their course, and all facts included are based on their research.
Read time: 3 min
The savannah biome is home to one of the most common species of antelope in Southern Africa. The name impala in Latin is Aepyceros melampus – which means “antelope with high horn and black feat.” Impalas play a vital role in the ecosystem, especially as they are a major food source for all the predators – such as leopards, lions, cheetahs, hyena, wild dogs, caracal and jackal – roaming around in the savanna biome.
Early in the summer, a lot starts to change. New life begins to appear and because impala – especially newborn impala – are a major part of predatory diets, the bush becomes very active. But not to fear, because there are so many newborn impalas, a large number will survive until adulthood. Their high birth rates are one of the reasons why they are the most successful antelope species in Southern Africa.
Another reason why they are so successful is because they are mixed feeders. They mostly eat grass in the summer months and shrubs in the winter months. This allows them to have abundant food sources during the whole year.
They also use countershading as a way to camouflage from different predators of different sizes. The top of their body is mostly darker than the rest of the body. The darker brown/red colour on their back fades into a lighter colour on their sides and then to a white on their stomach. This is a big advantage for the impala because it helps them to blend into the environment.
Impalas have very sharp senses; their sense of smell is acute and their hearing and sight are also very well developed. However, their main defence mechanism is safety in numbers and without that they are very vulnerable. Even with all these acute senses they still rely on each other.
Believe it or not an exciting impala sighting
We had a game drive a week or so ago. We saw an impala ewe on her own. This raised a lot of red flags for us as new guides because this is not normal! This ewe was standing alone next to a bush and she was not eating, she was on high alert. Her ears were up straight, her eyes piercing and scanning through the grass and the bushes. She was constantly backing up into the bush to make sure nothing grabs her from the back. Doing full 180 degree scans of her surroundings. We knew that this ewe must have been separated from the herd during a predator chase. This shows just how vulnerable an impala can be when separated from its herd. As new guides at Bushwise, we used this as our time to investigate and learn about the behaviour of impalas when there are predators around.
We chose to drive up the road past the impala that was standing alone. We heard a couple of alarm calls from birds while making our way up that road. About 700m away, we found the rest of the impala herd sticking close together and every single impala in that herd of about 40 was on high alert. As we passed, one of the impalas sounded an alarm call and all of them scattered into the bushes in a matter of seconds. The next day other students called in a lion sighting in that same area. This must have been the thing that had scared the impalas we saw.
Even though impalas are a common sighting, they are far from boring. Uncover the captivating world of the savanna biome with us at Bushwise! Delve into the intriguing dynamics of the bush firsthand and experience the wonders waiting to be explored.