Usually this space in our Caldwell Zoo’s website is reserved for endangered species, but this time a species listed as “least concern” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) will be in the spotlight, not only because it is an interesting animal, but because without animals such as this many of the favorite iconic endangered species would probably disappear.
The Caldwell Zoo houses common impala (Aepyceros melampus). Common impala are true antelopes from the eastern portions of Africa. Generally there are two impala subspecies recognized (some authorities list more) with the black-faced impala being listed as “vulnerable” by IUCN while the common impala here at our zoo is listed as “least concern” and is one of the most abundant antelopes in Africa. But these animals are very important since they are prey for others within their habitat—cats such as lion, leopard and cheetah, canids like Cape hunting dogs and spotted hyenas, reptiles like crocodiles and pythons and even humans hunt impala. In fact, the impala is nicknamed “the MacDonald’s of the bush,” not only because they have a characteristic “M” shaped marking on their rumps, but because they are a food source for many predators.
The name “impala” comes from the Zulu language meaning “gazelle” (they are related). The scientific name for impala means “high horn black foot.” The impala are beautiful reddish-brown hoof stock with black thigh stripes. Males are generally larger than females and only males have those amazing lyre-shaped horns which have been known to reach 36 inches.
These animals are great jumpers and can leap about 9 feet in the air and about 33 feet in distance—good for avoiding danger. Because they are prey animals, the impala are very wary and alert. If danger is sensed, they will remain motionless, snort an alarm and even run to hide in dense vegetation.
So, when you see the impala on our African overlook, remember: animals don’t have to be endangered to be important. Every living organism on our Earth has a job to do, a reason to be here.