• SCIENTIFIC NAME: Aepyceros melampus

  • SWAHILI NAME: Swala pala

The impala is much more unique than a first glance may suggest. It is the only species in its genus, and the species has changed very little in the past five million years! Superficially, it looks similar to other antelopes, but the dark stripes down the back of the impala’s thighs and the structure and shape of its horns set it apart. The horns, which are hollow at the bottom, are strong and flexible. During fights, the shape of each horn’s arch helps lessen the impact of hits and protects the head.





Daily Rhythm




Life span

In the wild: 10 years (male); 12 to14 years (female)
In captivity: 25 years

Conservation Status

Lower risk


Male: 101.4 to 142.0 lb (46.0 to 64.4 kg)
Female: 85.0 to 100.7 lb (38.9 to 45.7 kg)


Male: 30.9 to 36.4 in (78.5 to 92.5 cm) high at shoulder
Female: 31.1 to 31.9 in (79 to 81 cm) high at shoulder


Listen to the sounds of the Impala

Tracks and Scat

Tracks: Create well-worn paths, usually from resting spots to reliable water sources
Scat: Herds and bachelor groups use middens; pellets of clustered droppings found near game trails

Impala tracks

Trivia Question

What is the purpose of the “empty kick,” where an impala leaps from its front to its back feet like a rocking horse?


Impalas do this “empty kick” behavior to disperse scent from the metatarsal glands on their back legs. This helps them find each other and re-form the herd after a separation.

Social Structure

Impalas have an unusually loose social structure. Groups join and separate into herds of different sizes with no regard to territories or individuals. The size of a herd depends on the habitat and can range from 4 to 150 members. The largest groups tend to be found in more open habitats. Impalas form three types of groups: bachelor groups, breeding groups, and territorial males. A fourth group, the nursery herd, may form for a few months after births occur. The bachelor groups are composed of juveniles, sub-adults, or adult males. They are organized in a hierarchy based on age and move frequently, concentrating on areas with lower quality vegetation.


Impalas communicate through sight, sound, and smell as well as with physical displays, such as kicks and tongue flashing. Unlike other kinds of antelopes, impalas communicate vocally by “roaring” at a very high volume. The roars of dominant males can be heard up to 1.2 miles (2 km) away, giving them a reputation for being one of the loudest and noisiest ungulates before the breeding season.


Impalas are mostly active during the day, alternating their time between moving, resting, feeding, and grooming. At night, they spend most of their time lying down or ruminating. Impalas are the only ungulates known to engage in a form of reciprocal grooming called allogrooming. Their teeth are specially designed and positioned to scour through another’s (or their own) hair and remove any ticks with ease. Allogrooming occurs frequently between all individuals, regardless of status, kin, or sex. Male impalas are very territorial and use threat displays, confrontations, and outright fighting to defend their territories. Fights generally occur only when two males both try to assert their dominance.


Impala populations remain very widespread, despite some decreases in parts of their range. However, two of their greatest survival tactics have become their biggest survival risks: Their high rate of reproduction and incredible adaptability have made them particularly tempting as a meat source. Even though many impala live in protected regions, poaching threatens them on the boundaries of these areas.

Range & Habitat

Impalas occupy a vast range through eastern and southern Africa, stretching from Kenya to South Africa. The northern part of their range includes both the central and southern areas of Kenya, with a particularly large population in Laikipia. Their current range is mostly consistent with the species’s historical range, with only some slight decreases due to human activity.

Impalas prefer either savanna or woodland habitats near water. They particularly like open savannas with lots of acacia trees and where nutrient-rich soil grows high-quality grass and leaves. Impalas tend to congregate in regions with shorter grass, so they are often found in areas recovering from fires. Because impalas do not do well in dry heat, they tend to live in areas with a good canopy that provides cool shade.


Impalas eat both grass and plants, with the amount of each being dependent on season and location. Generally, impalas graze after the first rains when the grass flourishes; they browse as the dry season progresses. Impalas change their feeding grounds within a particular habitat to ensure there is always green grass available. Although they consume a wide range of grasses and tree species, they prefer browsing from acacia trees. Impalas occasionally feed on fruit to obtain more protein.


The rut, or mating season, tends to occur at the end of the wet season when territoriality is at its peak. As this time approaches, adult males display aggressive behavior by walking stiffly, presenting their horns and necks, folding back their ears, lifting their tails, and yawning or flashing their tongues in the faces of their rivals. A territorial male must obtain a breeding herd before he can breed. Once he has one, he checks for potential mates by smelling and licking the females, then displays flehmen (curls back his lips). The male follows a potential mate with his head down and his nose outstretched. If the female is willing, the male mounts and mates with her. When successful, the male emits a snort or a loud roar, dismounts, and shows no further interest in her. A female impala gives birth to a single calf 27 to 28 weeks after mating. A calf may remain hidden for a few days, then follows its mother to the herd during the day, returning to hide at night. Several calves often hide together in one place. After a week, the young join the herd and form temporary nursery groups. Although there is little bond between a mother impala and her offspring, the young do develop bonds with others their own age. Female impalas stay in the breeding herd for the rest of their lives. Male impalas, once weaned, are driven out of the herd by the dominant male and form their own herds. Females mature at 18 months; males are able to mate when they become territorial at about 4 years of age.

Friends & Foes

Every large predator in Africa hunts impalas, from leopards and cheetahs to jackals and baboons. Impalas must be constantly vigilant in woodland areas, where they are particularly susceptible to predators. If an impala spots a predator from a distance, it will emit a snort and move away slowly. If a predator sneaks in close before being detected, the impala will run and jump in many directions, while kicking its back legs out. An impala can leap as far as 39 feet (12 m) in a single bound. While impalas have many enemies, they also have a close relationship with oxpeckers. These small birds, which congregate on the ears, necks, and heads of impalas, help to groom them.

Population in Kenya & Beyond

An estimated 1,600,000 impalas remain in the wild, more than half of which are in South Africa. However, the actual number may be closer to 2 million. It is difficult to get an exact count because about half of the population lives on private land, and one-fourth is in protected areas.


Did you know?

Impalas have an internal timer that prompts them to groom before a tick is able to irritate their skin.