In May 2020, we had the “pleasure” of having a particularly vociferous and highly strung Impala ram roaming around Bateleur. A couple of times a day, he would do his rounds making the most alarming noises and nodding his head up and down – he’d generally drive us a little crazy. Teens 1 to 3 and Zaza would be busy with their schoolwork and hubby had important meetings and Snorty was very distracting. We were very curious about his behaviour and whenever he came past we would try to spot him, school lessons and meetings permitting. He kept his distance though and we struggled to capture a decent picture of him. We dubbed him Snorty.
Impala or Aepyceros melampus are medium sized antelope found in the eastern and southern regions of South Africa. There are 3 distinct social groups – territorial rams, bachelor herds and female herds. The rutting season takes place towards the end of the rainy season and lasts approximately 3 weeks. Generally we observe this towards the end of May in South Africa.
For those who have spent many hours in the South African Bush, impala are generally dismissed as a means to an end for predators. After all, everywhere you look, there’s a herd of impala! They are very often the very first animal you will spot when you arrive in the bush. If you take a bit of a closer look at them and take the time to observe them, you will find that they are far more interesting than most people give them credit for. They are individuals with unique personalities. Some are brave and feisty, while others are timid and meek. They are not merely prettily packaged convenience meals for famished carnivores!
Rutting is a fight for dominance. The rams make the most ridiculous sounds at times. Grunts, snorts and snarls that would make a lion proud. For newbies in the Bush, you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that a predator was out and about. Rams will fight each other and clash horns until one of the contenders backs down. The posturing and strutting reminds me of road rage in the human species. Generally there’s a little bit of showy body language and maybe one or two lunges until one party backs down – looking and feeling a bit foolish. For braver and more dominant impala rams, this clash can become really intense and in fact life threatening. In some cases it only ends when one of them is injured. Some unlucky bachelors even lose part of their horns in the clashes that take place or get tired and distracted becoming easy prey for watchful predators.
The dominant ram is the one who gets to sire the next generation of impala lambs, who are born approximately 6 to 7 months later. It is difficult to keep other males out of his territory and in reality he will only father about 60 percent of the progeny. December is an ideal time to observe tiny impala lambs finding their feet and learning how to leap.
Snorty was a very beautiful Impala ram with a sleek, shiny coat, majestic horns and a manly gait – an absolutely beautiful specimen. Even though impala rams tend to neglect grooming during the rutting season, he was truly magnificent. We were all in agreement though that he could use some therapy for his anxiety disorder which was quite apparent! I could picture him on the psychologist’s couch constantly checking his watch and tapping his hooves – this boy had places to be after all! A territory to patrol (which unluckily for us appeared to be the Lodge and its immediate surrounds) and important work to do fathering the next generation!