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The Annual Impala Rutt- in full swing now

Posted 19.05.2014Comments • You are here: Ranger Diary » General
The Annual Impala Rutt- in full swing now
Impala, our most common antelope, often tend to be regarded as uninteresting until they demand our attention with the very vocal and obvious rutting season. As autumn arrives impala males of 4 years and older begin to respond to the seasonal collective oestrus cycles of the adult females. They begin to challenge each other in an effort to gain and hold a territory. They spar and lock horns in a battle of dominance and chase each other relentlessly. Unsuccessful males later regroup into bachelor herds and stay away from places where territories have been claimed.
Territorial rams start rounding up females and herding them into their territories. They spend a lot of time and effort chasing out other rams and young males with threatening body language such as head nodding and a stiff legged strut while raising their tails and sticking out their head neck and tail horizontally. The rams rub their foreheads on tree stems using a secretion from a gland to advertise their status and also horning vegetation. They become very vocal letting out up to 3 explosive snorts followed by many guttural grunts. To the uninitiated it is very hard to believe that this sound is made by such elegant animals. The sound can carry up to 2 km in the cooler autumn air and in the evenings. It becomes a frenzy of territorial rams proclaiming their status and chasing out challenging males and herding in willing females. Receptive ewes are mounted repeatedly for about 10 seconds at a time after which the ram will emit a series of snorts and grunts. With all this activity and given the commonality of these antelope it is a wonder that so few people have seen impala copulating.
The territorial impala rams become so preoccupied during the height of the rutt that they often fall prey to opportunistic predators and have been known to chase each other into the road onto oncoming traffic on the public road network in the Kruger Park, causing chaos and sometimes accidents. The males tend to hold onto a territory for a few days only, normally up to about 8 days until he is chased out by a challenger and retreats to gather his strength and later tries to reclaim his territory. They tend to lose body condition too with so little time for feeding between chasing out interlopers, herding the ewes and hopefully mating. Old Afrikaans folks I have met often used to refer to young men who are strutting their stuff as “Rammetjie nek uitsteek” to tease them about their courting efforts and I believe there are some similarities. It’s all good to watch.
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