Dying To Breed

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Each year, beginning in April and May, the woodlands of northern Botswana begin to echo to the sound of male impala carrying out their rutting rituals. This behaviour is triggered by shortening day lengths. Normally quiet, the male impala begin to vocalize with loud, guttural grunting calls. This is just the sound of the rut though, and the impala go much further than just calling. Males become aggressive toward one another, and rival males strut, snort and posture in their attempts to intimidate one another. If this doesn’t work, then things may get physical. Serious males may lock horns and try to wrestle each other to the ground, and fights can become serious. I have seen a male impala walking about with another males horn broken off in his neck, and on another occasion a male that had broken both his own horns in half. Even younger males, not yet old enough to breed, seem to become more combative and can be seen chasing each other about.

The conflict comes about for access to females, as males that are dominant are able to control herds of female impala, and mate with them. However, the cost of defending herds of females, and the never-ending efforts of the dominating males to round up the females results in a rapid loss of condition amongst competing males. The loss of condition, combined with a preoccupation with other males also leads to a general lack of vigilance amongst males.

There are of course a variety of predators on impala only too quick to take advantage of this situation, and the number of adult males falling victim to predators increases noticeably during the rutting period, and immediately afterwards.

The Linyanti wild dog pack has not missed out on the opportunity, and they have taken several adult male impala over the last few weeks.

It is ironic that the need for the male impala to compete and breed may overshadow all else for a short few weeks, and even cost them their lives.

I am a South African who grew up in the former Transkei, (now the Eastern Cape) and I spent much of my time along the Wild Coast. For over ten years I have been working as a guide in northern Botswana, for a company called Wilderness Safaris. I spend many days of each year leading photographic safari trips with small groups of people through our fixed camps in the Kalahari, Okavango, Linyanti and Savuti regions, mostly. My special interests are birds, lions and photography, in no special order. When I am not guiding in the field, I take part in some of our companies environmental projects. Botswana is a country with a solid conservation ethic, and I am fortunate to be able to share some of what I do and see by means of my writing and my images. Visit my photography page

Jacis Lodges
AG Secret Season Safari
Africa Geographic