The impala is an African antelope. The name comes from the Zulu word for 'gazelle'. Its scientific name (Aepyceros melampus) is a mix of Greek words meaning 'high horn' and 'black foot'. The impala was once grouped with gazelles, kobs and hartebeests but is now given its own tribe (Aephcerotini) and genus. It is generally accepted that there are two subspecies. These are the black-faced impala (A.m.petersi) and the common impala (A.m.melampus).
The impala is found from north-eastern South Africa through central and eastern Africa north to Uganda and Kenya.
The impala is found in savannah and light woodland vegetation. They occur in irregular densities as they are dependent on free water, soils with firm footing and relatively flat terrain. If they have access to green vegetation they can go for long periods without drinking.
The mature impala stands between 29 and 36 inches tall with males weighing 100 to 170 pounds and females slightly less. They are a reddish-brown with lighter flanks and white bellies. There is a characteristic 'M' marking on the rear.
The horns of the males are lyre-shaped and can reach up to 35 inches in length. Occasionally, a black impala is seen. This rare colour is caused by a recessive gene.
When startled, impalas leap and twist in all directions in an effort to confuse their predators. Impalas can leap 9 feet high and 33 feet in length. They can also run at 50 to 56 miles an hour. The high kicks seen when fleeing releases a scent from glands on the heels. This helps them to stay together.
Impalas are adaptable and graze or browse depending on the season and the habitat. During the wet, they graze but during dry seasons, it browses on shoots, forbs, seeds and foliage.
Females and juveniles form herds of up to 200. If food is plentiful, males will establish territories and will fight off other males.
Females pass through territories with the best grazing, are rounded up by the male and prevented from leaving. Young males may form bachelor herds. During dry periods, large mixed herds travel peacefully in search of food.
Rutting begins at the end of the wet season, usually in May and lasts about 3 weeks. The gestation period is 6 to 7 months but if conditions aren't conducive to birth, the mother is able to delay the birth for another month. The mother goes off on her own to have the fawn and will stay away for anything from a few days to several weeks before returning to the herd. Once reunited with the herd, the youngsters form nursery groups and only go to the mother to nurse or if danger threatens. At four to six months of age, the young are weaned.
Lions, wild dogs, cheetahs and leopards all prey on the impala.
The common impala is very plentiful and is listed as 'of least concern'. About 25% of the population is found in protected areas. The black-faced impala is rare and only found in Etosha National Park and on private farms in Namibia.