Summertime in the north of Botswana is the time when impala females give birth to their young. The arrival of these delicate creatures, weighing only 5kg, is obviously of great importance to the impala population and represents their future generations. However, for the carnivores that they share their habitat with, the young impala signify a temporary abundance of food.
For the first few months of their lives, the young impala have neither the flat-out speed, nor the endurance or experience of the adults. This makes them much easier targets for predators like the African wild dog.
The wild dogs of the Linyanti pack have been feeding almost exclusively on young impala for the last six weeks. When wild dogs are hunting adult impala, chases are often prolonged, and the pack gets separated from one another frequently. Dogs have to keep moving from one area to another, in search of any weak animals, or perhaps to make use of the element of surprise. In strong contrast to this, hunting young impala is much easier. They are usually caught after only a short chase. They are relatively naive when it comes to avoiding predators. In places like the Linyanti and Savuti, the number of young impala is great. The wild dogs also consume the smaller prey animals far quicker than they would an adult impala, reducing the chances of losing their prey to hyena *or* lions.
However, the fact that the baby impala are only a few kilograms in weight also means that sharing food as wild dogs are apt to do is not so straightforward. Wild dogs typically allow first access to their kills to the alpha male and female, and the pups. With so little meat to share this can easily result in an individual dog making a kill and then not getting any for itself, especially if it is not one of the alpha pair. Over the last weeks at Savuti I have twice seen adult dogs sneaking off jealously with their kills, away from the rest of the pack. After guzzling down the catch, they quickly rejoin the pack. This is very unlike the behaviour they show when a large prey animal is killed. In those instances the successful dog typically runs off to find and collect the rest of the pack, whereupon they return rapidly and devour the kill together.
Each day of survival for the young impala leaves them faster, stronger and wiser. Within a few months, they will be almost as difficult for the dogs to catch as their parents are.
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