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Impala (Aepyceros melampus, Swala or Swara pala) are attractively marked in colors that blend well with their preferred habitat—scrub bush and wooded savanna. A medium-sized adult impala, three feet (90 cm) at the shoulder, weighs about 150 pounds (68 kg), although males are usually bigger. Females lack the graceful curved, lyre-shaped horns that can be up to 30 in (76 cm) long on a full-grown male.

Their coat is relatively uniform chestnut or reddish-brown and beige with white underparts and black and white markings on the rump. The characteristic white marks are flanked by black lines on either side of the rump. The tail is black on top, white underneath. Black tufts of hair also sprout from just above the heel on the rear legs.

Rutting season begins with March rains. Males challenge one another in pounding head-bashing fights. Their horns can lock so render both animals helpless. The fortunate winners control a territory through which the females move, in herds of up to 100, but more often around 30 to 50. Less successful often younger males often hang around the harems to dislodge the dominant male or, if they are lucky, sneakily mate if the dominant male does not see. The tail, normally tucked away, is lifted during sexual displays to show the startling white patch.

Fawns are born about six months after mating and may live to ten or fifteen years. Impala are widely distributed and successful animals. Their defenses against predators help them survive. An impala can leap thirty feet (9 m) in one bound and jump ten feet (3 m) in the air, higher than a springbok.

Impalas feeding strategy is tied to seasonal changes. During the rainy season, they feed almost exclusively on high quality grasses. When these dry out and diminish in quantity and quality during the dry season, they browse shrubs and low trees, and grasses comprise about a third of their diet. In any case, they do not migrate long distances but must always be close to water. This does not seem a strict limit on their range which extends over much of Eastern and Central Africa.

Being locally numerous, impala are an important prey item for the large African predators. A frightened impala will dash off, and its tail flies upward to flash a white warning signal to the others. A whole herd will leap and bound to confuse the eye of a predator on the chase. They kick high, dispersing scent, which may allow groups to come back together after being chased by a predator.

Impalas seem safe from extinction for the near future, as their populations are growing in protected areas, or at least in balance.


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