During the start of the Winter season and this time of the year when the days get shorter and the nights get longer, the impala ram’s testosterone levels escalate and they begin to fight for territory and dominance over female herds. The impala breeding season, which is known as the rutting season reflects a time when all the male’s energy is directed towards impressing the females. This time of the year (early winter) is probably the best time to see impalas as there is lots of action amongst the herd during the rutting season.
During the rutting season, male impalas (Rams) leave their bachelor herds to establish their territories. This is a very tense time as the rams are very aggressive towards other males. To impress the ladies, males show off their strength, agility and overall health by jumping and leaping around. They also chase the females around, hoping to get their attention– it sure is tough in the animal kingdom.
At first, it is very much just for show, but as the months go on, the fights get more serious and aggressive until the rutting season reaches its peak. Males will hold their heads low to the ground and lock their horns and push each other around. During the fights with other males, their horns can get damaged or even break off. The horns of an impala ram do not grow back like a deer’s antlers so don’t be surprised if you happen to come across a one-horned unicorn – we mean a one-horned impala!
During the rutting season, males are heard making a loud snorting and grunting noise that stems from their nasal cavity. The dominant male usually runs around chasing off other males but also herds his females using these sounds. It is hard to believe that the grunting sound comes from such a beautiful antelope. One can easily mistake this sound for that of a predator if you have not heard it before!
Once an impala ram has taken over a territory and has claimed his spot amongst the females, he then has the duty of attempting to mate with as many females as possible. While doing so, he still has to be on the lookout for other males and defend his territory from other bachelors who may want to steal his ladies.
Victorious males can take over a herd of approximately 50 females. He will attempt to mate with all the reproductive ewes (females) and will never mate with the same female more than once. Mating usually happens over a short period which is roughly over two weeks. Due to mating taking place so close together, the females are usually pregnant at the same time and will give birth around the same time. This successful breeding strategy is what contributes to their large numbers.
For a ram, this is not the best time of their life. With all the fighting, defending their territory and mating over a few weeks, the majority are either dethroned from their territory or killed in a fight. A males condition will also deteriorate during the rutting season. With all the mating and fighting it’s no wonder that there is no time to eat or groom. The number of ticks on a males body increases which means that they lose their condition quickly. This weakens the ram and gives his competitors the opportunity of taking over the herd to get their genetics into the mix. Predators use the rutting season to their advantage. Rams become an easy target when they are tired and distracted so they don’t always notice or hear a predator sneaking up on them.
Some males can remain dominant in the herd for up to eight days before being pushed out by a stronger male. The male who has been pushed out of the herd won’t just sit back. He will start to feed and condition himself before trying to compete for his herd again. It is a tough job trying to impress the ladies! When a new male takes over a herd of females, it allows for the spread of genetics, which prevents inbreeding and ensures that only the strongest genes are passed on to future generations. Once the rutting season has ended, we see the impala rams tolerating one another again as they re-form bachelor herds. Males usually stay together in bachelor herds with other males, while females stay together in herds with their young.
After a six to seven month gestation period, the females begin to have their babies. This is the start of the “cute season” which is generally around late November through to January each year. The reserve comes alive with all the newborns running around so it is something very special to witness. Who could resist the sight of a tiny and cute impala lamb! With the arrival of all the babies, predator activity naturally increases, so who knows, you may get to see a lot more action than you expected! You may even be lucky enough to witness a hunt.
Next time you are on safari, look out for the impala. You may have seen them a few times on your game drives but you never know, it may just be worth sticking around and watching the herd for a while. You never know what could happen!