African ballet dancer
The impala is a small to medium sized buck native to Southern Africa. The male is brown with a darker red patch running down the back and halfway down the sides as though a carpet had been draped over it. Females are brown, and the darker red patch on the back is less pronounced. Both sexes have distinctive white eyebrows, delicate eyes and mouth, and a curious M shape in black and white on the backside, to go with the stubby tail. Females are slightly smaller than the males, and both sexes stand a little under a meter in height. The males have beautiful curved horns, that are nonetheless very dangerous. While the horns can be used in self-defense, the horns are also used during mating rituals as the males spar for dominant position, and the right to impregnate the females. Impala are very fast, and very graceful animals. A herd of impala on the run is a magnificent sight, as they jump up to three meters in the air, occasionally changing direction without warning to throw off any pursuit. The gestation period is six months, and this is timed so that all of the females give birth during the rainy season, when there is plenty of food around. This ensures a relatively high survival rate, as there is enough food around for predators to ignore a few baby impala. The common habitat is woody or bushy country, and impala are seldom found too far from water. Impala, unlike many other antelope, have a very broad diet, and are also able to browse or graze at will. Impalas are gregarious by nature, and usually form into herds of 10 to 20. There are two main types of herd - the main herd, which contains the dominant male, the young offspring, and the females. The second herd is the bachelor herd, and contains the remaining males, who await their turn to challenge the dominant male for alpha status.
The lack of pesticide for antelope
Impalas are the only hoofed animal that allogroom - that is, the impala groom each other. While tick removal may not seem like a big issue, ticks and the diseases they carry can seriously reduce the lifespan of any animal. Furthermore, recent studies have shown that the M marking on the rump in black fur on white is an evolutionary advantage. Ticks and other insects are most likely to move to warm areas - which is the black fur - and these black areas are just inside the reach of the impala's teeth. This relative immunity from the ticks that plague other animals allows the impala to move into very thick bush usually avoided by other animals.
The amazing ability to jump up to 3 meters in the air and as far as 12 meters also seems to be linked to the imapala's affinity for bushy places - when you need to move quickly in thick bush, the best place to go is up.
Mcdonalds of the African plains
The impalas ability to breed like mad (usually, almost every female gives birth every year), their great speed, and their very broad diet has meant that the impala is the most common type of antelope in South Africa. Together with the distinctive M shape on the backside, the impala has become known as the Macdonalds of the African plains. Most predators eat impala; leopards because they are light enough to drag into a tree but heavy enough to be worth the effort, lions and wild dogs because they are common and easy enough to hunt, and crocodiles because impala usually drink every day. However, the impala situation has in many game reserves become so bad that impalas must still be culled before they eat everything. On many game reserves, impala steak is the dietary staple. This is not, however an entirely bad thing. With an abundance of prey, there is also likely to be an abundance of predators, and it is the predators that so often top the endangered list of any country. With any luck, the impalas ability to continue its population growth even in difficult times spells good things for the South African ecosystem.