Springtime in the bush is my favourite time of year. The rains have come and with it bring an array of life. Birds are returning from migration; Dung beetles are back with full force and tortoises are emerging from a long period of aestivation. Life is busting at the seams all around us and we are just weeks away from having hundreds of Impala lambs running around Londolozi. Knowing that this is around the corner gets everyone excited.
Impalas are the most prevalent antelope that we see at Londolozi and a large majority of this success lies within their breeding strategy along with being mixed feeders, and highly athletic and adaptable animals.
About seven months ago, the impalas began the rutting process where ewes coming into estrus send the rams into a frenzy. The rut happens over the period of about a month and a half and rams will fight for dominance, dominance in turn gives them rights to females in a herd. He will protect these females, driving off other males and during his reign he will hope to mate with as many ewes as possible, impregnating them and thus passing on his genes.
The benefit of having all ewes fall pregnant within a couple weeks of each other means that they will also drop their lambs within a couple weeks of each other. There is a huge influx of impala lambs in a concise space of time. This is something to behold, the sights and sounds of impala ewes trying to find their lamb amongst the heard never ceases to amaze me.
It is estimated that around 50% of impala lambs will make it to one year of age, this is an amazing feat considering how vulnerable they are during this period. Once they have survived their first year, their chances drastically improve. With a breeding strategy like this, it’s no wonder why there is an abundance of impalas at Londolozi and the Greater Kruger National Park.
With every herd soon to be inundated with these tiny little lambs, it is time for predators to take advantage. Predators ranging from male lions, leopards, and wild dogs to Martial Eagles will prey on the new-to-the-world lambs. Although they are easy targets, they essentially flood the market for predators. The majority of the lambs are born within 3-4 weeks of each other meaning that although many of them fall prey to these predators at least half are afforded time to grow and become predator-savvy.
The usual predators such as leopards and wild dogs flourish during lambing season but it’s the predators that change their behaviour during this time that really catch my eye. Impalas will leave their young in thickets once they are born for a day or two while they build up strength. Hyenas who mostly scavenge for their food in this area, adapt during this time and actively search thickets once they see a herd of impala knowing there may be a lamb stored somewhere. Martial Eagles, the largest of eagles around Londolozi hunt these lambs during this time knowing that lambs are plentiful and relatively easy and big prey for them. Marabou stalks and tawny eagles feed on the after birth once the lambs are born. Nothing goes to waste. These lambs inject life not only in the impala numbers but multiple different predators.
The flood of Impalas we are going to witness over the next month is something that really excites me. The impala breeding strategy not only benefits them but also the predators large and small around Londolozi.
Exciting times lay ahead.