Different times of the year bring with them different types of animal behaviour. Around the months of April and May, we tend to see a very specific type of behaviour amongst the impala population, namely the annual rut. Towards the end of summer, the shortening of the days triggers an increase in testosterone amongst impala rams.
This in turn leads to these rams attempting to establish territories, often leading to heavy clashes between males. Not only will the rams chase each other around, but once an individual has claimed a certain territory as his own, he will attempt to herd ewes into his territory in order to mate with them.
A disclaimer to the more sensitive viewers, this blog is not on the impala rut itself, but more so on one of the consequences of it. During these couple of months, the rams become so fixated on bashing heads with each other and herding females to stay within their territories that for periods of time they will let down their guard, creating great opportunities for predators to seek them out.
Recently I was lucky enough to witness to such an event. Along with two other ranger-tracker duos, we had successfully tracked and found the Nkoveni Female. When we eventually found her, she was lying down in the long grass, potentially trying to remain undetected by the herds of impala in the vicinity. After spending the better part of an hour with her in the hope that she might hunt or patrol her territory, she suddenly picked her head up and locked her gaze on a pair of impala rams that were engaged in a fierce battle. The intense clash of the horns is irresistible to predators.
A gorgeous female who is found to the east of camp. Easily recognised by her 2:2 spot pattern she is often to be found in Marula trees.
It was incredible to watch her behaviour transition from being completely relaxed and dozy to right into hunting mode within seconds. Most times that I have seen a leopard attempt to hunt, they have slowly and steadily stalked their prey until coming within striking distance, but not this time. She noticed that these rams were so fixated on each other that it was unlikely that they were going to notice her approach. She kept low to the ground but moved with purpose and at speed, freezing dead still every time they lifted their heads from fighting.
Words can only do so much to describe what unfolded, so here is a video was taken by a guest, Martha Myers, that captures the events that transpired.
As you can see in the video, there were more rams in the background that wanted to get in on the action, this likely benefitted her as they draw more attention towards them instead of her.
It was all over within a minute, she had successfully taken down a fully grown male impala, weighing roughly 70kgs, significantly larger than her. After gripping her jaws around the ram’s throat and successfully asphyxiating it, she dragged it more than 50 metres to the base of a suitable tree in case she needed to hoist it to keep the hyenas away from it.
The ordeal was far from over. At this stage the rest of the impalas were still alarm-calling at her, attracting huge amounts of attention from other predators such as hyenas, lions and other leopards that may have been in the area. She waisted no time in moving the carcass away from the herd and to a more secluded area with a large marula tree nearby.
Once the commotion had come to a close and the impala alarm calls faded, she began to feed on it for a short while. She then proceeded to head off into the darkness, most likely to fetch her two cubs for them to share in on the feast. We left her in peace and she left us all in awe, it was most definitely an afternoon that I will never forget.