What is an Impala?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

An impala is a type of African antelope. Many films about Africa feature impalas, since they are quite striking to look at and they have a distinctive way of moving; some people consider the impala the quintessential example of an antelope as a result. Most impalas are found in South Africa, and many zoos around the world have captive impalas for people who would like to see them in person.

Most impalas are found in South Africa.
Most impalas are found in South Africa.

A full grown impala is typically around three feet tall at the shoulder, and capable of jumping up to three times this height straight up in the air. The animals are reddish brown in color, with white underbellies and white tufts of hair in their ears, and their hindquarters are marked by distinctive black stripes. Male impalas have a set of ridged, curved horns which are quite memorable; the males use their horns in mating displays and to fight with one another, using their weight as leverage to try and throw their opponents.

These antelope are very social animals, living in large mixed herds of females and young impalas led by a male. Males form herds of their own, occasionally breaking off to lead a herd of females. Female impalas are somewhat smaller than the males, but otherwise more or less identical. The animals have a gestation period of around seven months, and they typically hide their calves for a few days before introducing them to the herd, establishing a nursery of young to make them easier to care for.

The word “impala” is the Zulu word which is used to describe these animals. In addition to living in herds and cooperating to raise young, the impala also engages in other social activities. Many will groom each other, for example, and they are also extremely vocal animals, making a range of grunts and snorts to communicate. Herd sizes fluctuate, depending on seasonal conditions; groups of over 100 animals are not uncommon.

Impalas are herbivores, and they have a number of a predators, including humans, who hunt them for both meat and sport. Like many antelope, they are very fast runners, moving gracefully across the ground to avoid predators. Impalas also use their jumping abilities to distinct advantage; when a herd is threatened, for example, the animals will explode into the air in a series of jumps to confuse their predator, giving them a jump start so that they can escape.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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