Swahili Name: Swala Pala
Scientific Name: Aepyceros melampus
Size: 28 to 36 inches tall
Weight: 100 to 135 pounds
Lifespan: 12 years
Habitat: Savannah and light woodland
Gestation: Between 6 and 7 months
Lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, hunting dogs
The graceful impala is a slender, medium-sized antelope so adaptable that it is found from southern Africa to the northern limits of East Africa.
The body is reddish-brown with white hair inside the ears, over each eye and on the chin, upper throat, underparts and buttocks. A narrow black line runs along the middle of the lower back to the long tail, and a vertical black stripe appears on the back of each thigh. Unlike other antelopes, impalas have large, brush like tufts of long, coarse black hair that cover a scent gland located just above the heel on each hind leg.
Impalas are found at grassland and woodland edges, usually very close by water.
Their social organization allows impalas to adapt to prevailing environmental conditions. When food is plentiful, the males become territorial. In home ranges averaging 3 square miles, six to eight dominant males set up territories. They stand with erect posture, rub scent from face glands and make dung heaps to mark their territory.
Impalas eat tender young grass shoots in the wet season and herbs and shrubs at other times. During the dry season they must drink daily.
In East Africa young are born year round, but birth peaks usually coincide with the rains. The female leaves the herd and seeks a secluded spot to bear her fawn. After giving birth she cleans the fawn and eats the afterbirth. If the fawn is born at a time when there are few other young around, the mother will stay with it in seclusion spot for a few days or even leave it lying out for a week or more before returning to the herd. If there are many other fawns, she may take hers back to the herd in a day or two, where a nursery group may form. Because predators have more difficulty selecting an individual from a nursery group, the fawns are safer there.
The young are killed by jackals and the smaller cats, baboons, eagles and pythons. When in danger, impalas will “explode” in a magnificent spectacle of leaping. In their zig-zag leaps, they often jump over and across their companions, probably to confuse predators. They perform a high kick of the hind legs, a movement thought to release scent from the glands on the heels, making it easier for them to stay together.
The female is similar to the male but does not have horns. The male’s graceful lyre-shaped horns are 18 to 37 inches long.
During periods of intense mating the male vocalizes loudly, making a sound between a lion’s roar and a dog’s bark. Exhausted by such activity, males seldom can hold their territories for more than a few months at a time.