It’s that time of the year again when all impala rams change from the sweet and mild-mannered Dr Jeckle into the fierce and combative Mr Hyde, also known as the rut. As Autumn creeps into Winter, the testosterone levels of impala rams spike, with rams competing for territory and dominance over female herds. By holding a prime piece of real estate, this allows them opportunities to mate with females before they move on to a neighbour’s territory.
The rut involves male impala leaving their bachelor herds and challenging other male impalas who have already staked out their claim for areas between four and eight hectares to hold and defend. The challenger will approach the territorial male and make his intentions known, doing its very best impressions of a lion and roaring, snorting and growling. The roars can be heard for over a kilometre, with territorial rams roaring up to 200 times an hour. The two impalas will enter into a ritual dance, measuring each other out and advancing and retreating, much like knights of old and jostling for position. If neither yields, then the fight commences, with a lot of pushing and shoving of heads, although injuries are usually only superficial with the curved horns and thickened skin covering a ram’s head usually preventing any serious injury.
To the victor go the spoils, and in this case, the knight wins the hand of the fair maiden, with the loser licking its wounds and going back to its bachelor herd to rest and recover before trying once more. The sole objective then of the territorial ram is to mate with as many females as possible, although they never mate with the same female more than once. This is complicated by the fact that the impala ram will still need to protect his territory in-between all the mating, which makes for a very busy time of the year! The synchronised mating also leads to synchronised births, which coincides with the rainy season, meaning lots of fawns dropping from October onwards. And then the testosterone serum runs out and, at least for one more season, Mr Hyde reverts back to Dr Jeckle, the impala rams cease their cavorting and life returns to normal.