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Impala Courtship

Updated: Apr 7, 2022

One of the most common antelope species in the northern Tanzanian savannas and steppes is the impala. The Impala is a guaranteed sighting when going on game drives or hot air balloon safaris. Because of their abundance, they’re oftentimes overlooked in search of more elusive wildlife like the big cats of Africa. But for me they’re one of the most beautiful animals to behold and my number two favorite in the antelope species (my top favorite is the eland).

Impalas in the wild are mostly observed in a harem structure consisting of one dominant male and about fifty females in one herd. They are territorial and territories are demarcated with urine and feces. The dominant male defends the harem against juvenile and male intruders. The harem may include young males but they are forcefully chased out of the herd as soon as they pose a threat to the dominant male. Displaced young males form smaller groups called bachelor herds for protection, as they have higher chance of survival against predators when in a group.

During the breeding or rutting season, which begins towards the end of the wet season, the male checks the female’s urine to ensure that she is fertile and sexually receptive. The dominant male does the flemeh, characterized by a curling of the upper lip and raising of the head, a behavior response when he detects the female’s fertility after smelling the urine. This behavior is essential in identifying reproductive status of a potential mate. The excited male then begins the courtship by pursuing her, flicking his tongue, and nodding vigorously. The female allows him to lick her vulva, holding holds her tail to one side. Here are some photos of impala courtship taken in Tarangire National Park in February. Look out for the impala when you go on your safari game drives.

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