I have always thought the impala is a very graceful animal, but that perception was slightly upturned recently, while we were traversing the Gonarezhou National Park, during the mating season.
It’s always about the women, isn’t it?
. . . the sun was partly obscured by a drift of some grey, thick clouds and a cool breeze typified the atmosphere (a rare treat for a place like Gonarezhou where daytime summer temperatures average 32°C) and just to the left of us there they were, tussling and scrapping like the fate of all impalas depended on the emergent victor.
Rams (male impalas) are known to lock horns and fight during the mating season (also known as the “rutting period”) to see who takes charge of a herd of female impalas.
Interestingly, the timing of the rut can depend on the length of the females’ gestation period, usually occurring so the young are born at a time when the climate is ideal (for the purpose of food and warmth).
Impalas are among the commonest animals in Zimbabwe’s national parks as well as private conservancies. How sylphlike they look each time I have seen them during a safari. The dazzling reddish brown coat, which is short and glossy, beautifully contrasted with lighter flanks and a white underbelly. Oh, and the characteristic “M” feature on the animal’s rear.
Not so much though in this situation. This fight was a bit disconcerting. I could picture in my head one of those lyre-shaped horns stuck in one impala’s eye.
“They can actually kill each other,” said our guide, sending a chill up my spine.
“A territorial ram normally heads a herd of female impalas, so the fight may have started with the coming in of a challenger,” he added.
“The victor will become the new boss of the herd.”
I can imagine. This is really not a benign confrontation. For a lengthy period, the two creatures tussled in the short dry grass, lifting wafts of dust . . . the horn clashes and head bangs were brutal, to say the least.
The female herd, of say, 70 impalas, was watching the fight from a close distance, leaping about, and scattering when things get intense and coming back into range very soon after.
They appeared . . . enthusiastic about the whole thing!
“So they will take anyone who wins, hey?” asks a colleague rhetorically.
Unfortunately we do not get to see the winner as one of the rams makes a dash for it, with the other’s horns at its rear.
But I’m sure one will be back.