A few days ago we came around the corner and noticed a female impala standing alone in a thicket. I hit the brakes immediately. At this time of year that could only mean one thing; this impala was giving birth. We must have missed the actual birth by minutes but at her feet lay a tiny newborn lamb.
The female hurriedly began to lick the amniotic fluid off the youngster and ingest the placenta and within minutes the lamb was attempting to stand. On skinny, wobbly legs it fumbled around only to be knocked down again as its mother greeted it with a few overly-zealous licks. Within 12 minutes it was running alongside her.
The very first lamb was born closer to the start of November but now we are into the thick of the birthing period. These animals have a synchronized birthing time which adds to the success of the species. Many of these young fawns will be killed by predators but by simply flooding the market, so to speak, it allows for others to reach an age where they are self-sufficient and fast enough to potentially outrun predators.
What would happen with this young newborn we watched taking its first steps is that it would stay isolated with its mother for a day or so. Then it will follow her back to the herd where crèches or nursery groups form. These 1-2 days allows the newborn to recognize the scent of its mother and allow it to identify her for suckling for when they return to the herd. Fawns will suckle from their mother for up to 4 months, after which they are then able to fend for themselves.
There is a misconception that impala ewes can delay their birthing period, yet there is not evidence to support this theory. You can read more on this often discussed topic in Shaun D’Araujo’s post from this time last year entitled: Can Impala Really Delay Their Births? The belief is that during poor conditions, certain species can lengthen their pregnancies – effectively delaying birth until conditions improve, failing which they will abort. If pregnancy were delayed, natural birth would be impossible owing to the offspring being too large.
Perceived holding of young is probably just a consequence of a slight offset, by a couple weeks, of the previous mating season when females conceived a few weeks later than normal. This is a common scenario, as a catalyst for mating is related to a change in daylight hours and physical condition, which is inextricably linked to food availability. Food availability, in turn, varies seasonally with rainfall, therefore good summer rainfall in the previous year can result in a slightly earlier mating period, which would ultimately result in an earlier birthing period.
In the bush, time is a strange thing and the seasons seem to flash by. It feels as if it was just the other day that we heard the bush lit up with the strange guttural roars from impala rams. These sounds invariably get mistaken for predators. It is in fact the sound made by dominant impala males during the rut or mating season. The roar is unique among our antelope, and probably evolved as a vocal means of advertising or intimidating potential rivals so as to reduce physical encounters.
The word rut actually means to roar.
Males chase off rivals as they attempt to subdue females. The three weak peak rut is influenced by the lunar cycle, shorter days stimulate gonadal growth and hormone production. This peak rut is normally around May. So much energy is spent on this behaviour that males lose condition and are displaced by younger males from bachelor herds. This may occur multiple times during the rut, ensuring a good influx of genes into the breeding pool.
What results is this sudden boom of arrivals to the impala population seven months later. In the last week we have seen multiple different leopards taking advantage of the new and vulnerable youngsters, including the Tamboti, Nkoveni and Tatowa females as well as the Inyathini male. And these are just the kills that we know about. Hyenas can also be found investigating the herds, looking for vulnerable youngsters to snatch up.
A young female that lives to the east and south of camp. Easily recognised by her 2:2 spot pattern she is often to be found in Marula trees.
The Tatowa female was one of a litter of three females born in early 2012 to the Ximpalapala female of the north.
The Tamboti female inhabits the south-eastern sections of Londolozi, having a large part of her territory along the Maxabene Riverbed.
Another leopard who originated in the Kruger National Park, he has established a large territory in the south eastern areas of Londolozi.
The sight of these tiny babies rapidly expanding the size of the impala herds along with the constantly greening bush is adding a new and vibrant energy to Londolozi and brings smiles to our faces wherever it is that we adventure on game drive these days.