Impala (Aepyceros melampus) are medium-sized antelope, lightly built, with the reddish-fawn upper parts becoming paler on the sides; the chest, belly, throat and chin are white. The tail is white with a central black line on the upper surface, and each buttock has a vertical black blaze.
A distinct characteristic is the tuft of black hair on the lower rear edge of the hind leg, and the impala does not share this appearance with any other antelope.
Though superficially similar to the gazelles, this slender, handsome antelope belongs to a separate subfamily that is more closely related to hartebeest and onyx. You can distinguish the impala from the gazelle by its chestnut colouring, sleek appearance and the male’s distinctive lyre-shaped horns.
An adult impala can jump up to 3m high and has been known to broad-jump for over 10m.
Impalas favour well-wooded savanna and woodland fringes and are often abundant in such habitats. In Uganda, impalas are found only in Lake Mburo National Park and Katonga Wildlife Reserve but have been recently reintroduced in Pain Upe Game Reserve.
The Impala (Aepyceros melampus) formerly occurred widely in southern and East Africa, from central and south Kenya and north-east Uganda to northern KwaZulu-Natal, with a small disjunct population of Black-faced Impala in north-west Namibia and south-east Angola.
Their current distribution remains largely unchanged from their historical range. However, impalas have been wiped out from historical habitats parts by hunting for meat.
Impala is diurnal and spends the night chewing cud and lying down. The peak activity times for social activity and herd movement are shortly after dawn and before dusk.
Impalas have different social structures depending on the season. The average size of the female herd is between 15-100 individuals depending on the space they occupy. Females live in clans within a home range of 80-180 ha.
During the wet season, the impala heavily defends its habitat, but there is much overlap between individuals and different clans during the dry season. There are slight differences between behaviour in southern and eastern impala. Southern impala is more likely to intermix during the dry season, while eastern impala will remain more territorial during the dry season.
These medium-sized antelopes form three distinct social groups during the wet season: territorial males with and without breeding females, bachelor herds of non-territorial adult and juvenile males, and breeding herds of females and juveniles (including young males less than four years). During the dry season, males can be found together or mixed with female herds.
The male impala changes its territory to match the season. During the breeding season, the male keeps a much smaller territory which they heavily defend from intruders. The males imprint on their original territory and always return to that territory to declare dominance. They will use various techniques to protect their territory (including keeping females) like tail-raising, forehead marking, forehead rubbing, herding, chasing, erect posture, fighting, and roaring.
Impalas are ruminants. Their upper incisors and canines are absent, and the cheek teeth are folded and sharply ridged. They are intermediate feeders while predominantly grazers. The impala will adapt to any amount of grass and browse.
They feed primarily on grass during times of lush growth following the rains and will switch to browsing during the dry season.