When you come to the beautiful continent of Africa what animals are on on the top of your list to see? Elegant Cheetahs, gigantic Elephants, magnificent Lions, prehistoric Rhinos and maybe the curious Giraffe and stripy Zebra, they probably all made the list. There is one species of animal that is commonly overlooked on a game drive, an animal that is probably one of the most numerous animals that you will see in the African bush, an animal that when the initial excitement of seeing it has worn off, it tends to get ignored.
I’m talking about an antelope, specifically the beautiful and elegant reddish-brown Impala. I can understand why people take them for granted after all it’s pretty rare to go on a game drive and not see them, which means that it’s all too easy for people to take them for granted, brushing them off as ‘’oh its just another herd of Impala’’, rather than marvelling in the magnitude of these animals. The Impala is one of the most successful, perfectly adapted species in Africa, in fact, they are so perfectly designed that as a species their form has barely changed in the last 5 million years.
So, what is the difference between an antelope and a deer that you might find at home? A male deer will shed and regrow his horns every year, while an antelope’s horns are permanent. Many a time I have been on game drives and seen antelope with broken horns, more than likely lost in battle with another male. Deer also have branched horns and antelope don’t.
Let’s address one popular misunderstanding about Impalas. Its has long been a rumour that female Impalas can delay the birth of their young by up to a month if the conditions aren’t right. This rumour may prove to be more myth than fact. Impalas are synchronised breeders, the rutting season normally starts in May resulting in lots of baby Impalas being born in November and December, when the first rains start to replenish the African bush, resulting in plenty of food for the lactating mother. But what happens when the rains are late, and conditions aren’t right for the baby Impalas to survive? The birth canal of an Impala is only so big, so in order to delay the birth of a foetus, she would also need to be able to stop it from growing, which is highly unlikely. What is more likely that any babies born early are the ones that were conceived first when the rutting season started, if the rains are late and there is no food about then these calves will simply die before we even know that they exist and the ones that are born a week or two later are the ones that survive. It is also possible for a female, early in the pregnancy to reabsorb the foetus or later to abort the foetus if the conditions aren’t favourable.
Due to environmental conditions and the fact that baby Impalas are a tasty snack for any predator, it is thought that only half the newborn Impalas will survive. This might sound harsh, but the rule of nature is one of survival of the fittest and because there are so many born in such a short space of time half of them survive. To Impalas safety in numbers and a high birth rate is an important survival strategy that has served them well for thousands of years.
Impalas have beautiful glossy coats. This is the result of them spending large amounts of time attending to their personal grooming. They have modified teeth, their lower incisors are slightly loose and can splay open, turning their teeth into a comb that can effectively get rid of parasites and dirt. They are also allo-groomers which means that Impala will help each other clean those harder to reach places.
Just like us, Impalas feel the cold and when they get cold, the hair on their bodies stands up. This helps them trap a layer of air close to their skin, which helps insulate them against the cold. It’s not unusual on a winter’s morning to see the Impalas gleaming coats take on a darker, fluffier and duller appearance. Do you know what the erection of hair is called? Drop us a comment below and let us know.
When you are a prey species it is important that you can blend into the background and that stand a chance of outrunning any animal that will try to make you its dinner. The colouring of an Impala helps make them appear two dimensional to predators. When you look at an impala, you will notice that their stomachs are white, their flanks are light brown and their backs are a darker shade brown. This is called countershading and it helps to break up their form enabling them to blend into the background. They are also incredibly agile, when they need to, they can jump 3m high and up to 12m long and they can run up to 80kmp.
These are just some of the amazing facts about these elegant animals. Next time you see them please don’t just drive by them, rather stop and spend some time marvelling and observing these magnificent animals. After all the African bush comprises of more than the Big 5 and in our ecosystem, every animal is important.
Indlulamithi – above the trees for World Giraffe Day.
Today on the winter/summer solstice also know as the longest night in the Southern hemisphere or the longest day in the Northern hemisphere we celebrate a very special, unique, curious, long necked animal, the Giraffe.
So why is the 21st June World Giraffe day? This is a new annual event launched by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) to raise awareness of our iconic long-necked friends. Did you know that even though they are an iconic African species that very little research has been done on them, and because of this the tallest mammal of the African bush has been disappearing right under our noses? According to the ICUN it is now thought that there are less than 69000 mature Giraffes left across the African Continent. This might sound like a healthy population number however; when you consider that over the last three decades Giraffe numbers have decreased by around 30-40%, a staggering amount, this population estimate is beginning to not look as good as it first you first thought.
The reasons why their numbers are declining is a familiar story. War, civil unrest, explosions in the human population, deforestation, habitat destruction, habitat fragmentation, disease and poaching are all contributing to their decline.
The Giraffe should have one advantage over other animals, because of its height they can reach food that other animals can’t which means that they don’t compete with other wild or domestic animals for food. However; in countries like Niger, where people are cutting down trees for fire wood, to grow crops and to sell, the Giraffes started to raid peoples crops, which in turn meant that the animals were being viewed as pests.
Currently the ICUN acknowledges the giraffe as one species with nine different subspecies. The Giraffe as a species are listed as vulnerable to extinction and if you break it down into the nine subspecies you will see that some of these subspecies are in danger of disappearing completely – the Nubian and Kordofan subspecies are critically endangered and the Reticulated subspecies is classified as endangered. The giraffes that live in Eastern, Western and Central Africa with most of them living in scattered, fragmented populations are the ones that are under the greatest threat whereas the lucky subspecies that live in Southern Africa have more stable population figures, although they are also not immune to population decline.
In recent years there has been some hope. The West Africa subspecies population declined so drastically that by the mid-nineties there were only 49 left. They used to have an extensive range, but they disappeared everywhere except in a small ‘giraffe corridor’ in Niger. Due to people recognizing the importance of them a massive conservation effort began. The Niger government gave them protected status and money was spent on anti-poaching. Thousands of Acacia trees, their favorite food have been planted, which helped to stop the Giraffes raiding people’s valuable crops. Thanks to Giraffe conservation organizations like GCF working with local people awareness of the Giraffes plight has increased and people now see these Giraffes as a positive force as they provide them with and income and jobs. All this work has had positive results. Their population numbers have increased and according to the ICUN there are now approximately 425 mature individuals. This success has enabled 8 West African Giraffes to be translocated to the protected Gadabedji Biosphere Reserve, an area they haven’t roamed for 50 years. Although this might sound like a small number these Giraffe have helped to increase the Biosphere Reserves biodiversity and most importantly these precious animals are helping to establish a second colony of West African Giraffe.
Now there we are researching Giraffe we are learning some interesting things. Thanks to genetic testing our assumptions that there are nine subspecies has been shown to be wrong and many questions are being raised. It has shown that there are four distinct species of Giraffe that have not interbreed for millions of years. Some of these species of Giraffes also have subspecies.
Whilst this might seem like an academic argument, after all it doesn’t change the conservation status of these animals, it goes to show that there is still so much to learn about them. It is also hoped that with more research, by understating their genetic makeup and what makes each species of Giraffe unique that they will be able to come up with new conservation approaches that can save this amazing animal.
|Masai giraffe||Giraffa tippelskirchi||35,000|
|Northern giraffe||Giraffa camelopardalis||5,600|
|Kordofan giraffe||G. c. antiquorum||2,000|
|Nubian giraffe||G. c. camelopardalis||3,000|
|West African giraffe||G. c. peralta||600|
|Reticulated giraffe||Giraffa reticulata||15,780|
|Southern giraffe||Giraffa giraffa||54,750|
|Angolan giraffe||G. g. angolensis||17,750|
|South African giraffe||G. g. giraffa||37,000|
When humans put their minds to it, we can change the world and when we work together with nature rather than just considering our needs, we can create a positive change.