An antelope found in abundance. Appreciated and then overlooked. Guests and rangers alike are to blame. Its success blatantly obvious – the numbers speak for themselves and make the impala the most prevalent antelope in the Lowveld. This success is largely due to an intense couple of weeks of mating that occur. This time is known as the rut, a time of copulation but also predation.
During this annual occurrence the monotonous antelope become the centre of attention. Males will start gearing up for the rut as early as March. The first roars break the air as the days shorten at the end of summer. The males will rub their foreheads on small bushes and deposit scent from a cluster of sebaceous glands situated at the base of the horns. This, as well as middens are used to proclaim temporary territory which the males fiercely defend.
Impala males will defend territory by posturing to try and avoid physical contact and therefore risking injury. This is not always the case and impala will come to blows. The clashing of horns pierces the air and gets the attention of big cats even in the deepest of sleep. Predation on male impala at this time of year skyrockets and just about all kills seen at this time are males. During rutting season males will spend as much of 25% of their time on herding females towards the centre of their territory to prevent them from moving over to other males. This is time that could have gone into preserving physical condition and looking out for predators. The big cats are not the only ones to take advantage of this lapse in concentration by what is usually one of the most vigilant inhabitants of Londolozi. The African wild dog appear to time their denning period when they have puppies to coincide with the rut. Impala that have invested energy into other parts of life are now weaker and more vulnerable.
The roars and clashing horns of impala have become a constant but unfortunately this will not last. The predation will slow and the chaos will subside. The approaching full moon is not yet here and is by no means a definite cut off to the end of the rut, so let’s not wish away this time of activity. There is still much to unfold and for a brief period the impala will hold centre stage.
Written and photographed by Simon Smit, Londolozi ranger