I was thrilled to be able to publish this at first, thinking I had discovered something almost unheard of in the area.
Then I went back through the archives and discovered that not only has something similar been seen, but I’m pretty sure exactly the same animal was seen.
It is a female impala with what can only be described as a spectacular pair of horns!
Although James Souchon wrote about this female back in 2018 (I’m presuming it’s the same female as the horns look similar but shorter; enough time has elapsed for them to obtain their present length), this was the first time I have ever seen her. I don’t know how much local movement there is of individual impalas within the reserve, but I imagine there would have been more mention of this female if she has stayed on Londolozi the entire time. Maybe she just blends in fairly well.
Impalas are sexually dimorphic, which mean that males and female look different. Males have horns and females don’t. Males are a little bulkier, whilst ewes tend to be a bit more slender.
It is literally only at birth and for a couple of weeks thereafter – before the males’ horns start pushing through – that they are pretty indistinguishable.
What caught our attention when we saw her was twofold; her horns were a funny shape and her build didn’t fit with the usual profile of an adult ram.
We were heading back to camp at the time and hit the brakes immediately upon seeing this impala with long straight(ish) horns. Taking a closer look, we could see that the impala lacked any male genitalia, further confirming that it was a ewe.
Googling hermaphroditic impala, I wasn’t too surprised to discover a couple of other records out there, most notably from Madikwe Game Reserve and Tala Lodge in Kwazulu/Natal. If a genetic anomaly can occur in the Sabi Sand Reserve, it could certainly occur elsewhere.
Individuals like this are almost always infertile in the wild, which means that the trait won’t be passed on. Even if they were reproductively viable, it is far more likely that this is a malfunction of genetic or hormonal expression rather than a result of a recessive gene, so the condition probably isn’t inheritable.
Personally I find it interesting that this impala has survived so long, again assuming it’s the same individual from James Souchon’s Post. No that it is necessarily slower or weaker than the others, but it stands out from the crowd. It certainly did for us. An oddity in the African bush usually makes for an inviting target for predators, but it seems to be so far, so good for this ewe.