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Impala: Aepyceros melampus

I always look forward to the period (in the Kruger) from late April to late June – the annual impala rut – because I get the opportunity to watch such amazing vocal and visual displays that are all related to dominance, territory and reproduction by impala rams.

Armed with twice as much testosterone, a thicker neck, well developed horns and very visible pair of gonads, impala rams set about defending their hard-earned breeding rights with new found aggression and territoriality.

The impala rut is a frenetic, all action visual and vocal affair that lasts for up to a month. Landlords or dominant males defend their territories vigorously and must manage reproductive rights and dominance with ewe herds within his territory. Batchelor groups are always present. This battle for reproductive rights sees a high turn around in champions, and the politicking is always accompanied with abundant guttural vocalisation and posturing by the rams.

All this action turns territorial and bachelor males into ‘posturing body builders’ on show to earn the right to herd and assess whether ewes are in oestrous. Once an oestrus ewe is found the male begins courtship by following her, head nodding and tongue-flicking. The ewe accepts the male’s relentless pursuit by standing, moving her tail to one side and allowing him to mount. After that the ‘sportsman’ loses interest and sets about finding another ewe. Hectic but necessary because there are bachelors to attend to, and plenty more females to cover.

This fantastic behavioural display is normally on show during the months from late April to June and – even though the individual rut only lasts a few weeks – impalas generally can delay the rut up to a month. During the most intense period the guttural roar and tail flair along with medial, high and low threat / dominance displays all make for excellent viewing.

Neil Heron

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