Most people really want to know when the best time to go on safari is and they will tell you it is in the dry season. There is no rain, the weather is more temperate and the dry climate ensures that the animals all gather around the watering holes, providing great opportunities to see high concentrations of wild animals. This is conventional safari wisdom that makes sense and there definitely is a good logic behind it.

The Secret Season…

However, speak to those that know and you will find that there is another safari season that not only offers amazing safari experiences but also has some additional unexpected benefits that all goes towards ensuring that you have a truly epic safari holiday. At Chitwa, there are two rainy seasons; a short one and a long one. The short rainy season is in November while the long rainy season stretches over to around March. Traditionally, it was thought that the rainy season is not a great time to go on safari and for various reasons, roads are closed due to erosion, the bush is extremely dense and animal sightings are limited.

But some of us call this season the secret season, the season that brings life to the African bush. The lambing season of the Impala’s.

November at Chitwa is an exciting time of the year. Some of the more noticeable highlights include the first summer rainstorms, the return of migratory birds such as the woodland kingfisher and the sudden arrival of hundreds of newborn impala lambs.

The impala lambing season seems to represent the official start of summer. In a matter of weeks, the many impala herds dotted around the reserve almost double in size – and that’s no coincidence. Impalas are by far the most widespread antelope species at Chitwa and that is partly due to their breeding strategy. In this blog, I will explain to you everything about the lambing season and how it influences the behaviour of other animals, especially predators.

The thing that initially caught my interest about the seemingly present impala is the question: what exactly makes them so successful?

Part of the reason why impalas dominate the landscape here is that their birthing strategy ensures a relatively large proportion of them go on to survive to adulthood. It is estimated that roughly 50% of impala lambs will survive their first year, which is impressive considering how vulnerable antelope in particular are during their first year of life. Once the impalas have survived their first year, their chance of making it through to an age where they are then able to reproduce increases significantly. With a strategy like this, it’s no surprise to learn that the impala population has grown more than any other species in the Kruger National Park area.

There are many predators that attempt to capitalise on the weak and inexperienced newcomers to the wild world. Impalas combat the pressure from the predators by essentially flooding the market with young, and there are simply too many lambs running around for the predators to catch them all.

Within a period of about 3 to 5 weeks almost 90% of all impala lambs will be born, meaning that although many will succumb to predators, at least half of them will have enough time to grow strong enough and streetwise enough to evade predators.

While the impalas do have a brilliant natural solution to ensure their population’s breeding success, predators too, make use of this time of plenty to advance their own agendas.

From the usual suspects like leopards and African wild dogs to less likely candidates like hyenas, many different predator species adapt their hunting style to make use of the many impala lambs around.

Since it takes about two days for a newborn impala to be properly comfortable on its feet, the young impalas usually lie hidden in a thick area while their mothers are off feeding. Hyenas – who in this part of Africa usually only hunt around 30% of the time, if that – will actively go in search of newborn lambs. This it is not uncommon to see impalas looking particularly uneasy when hyenas are around come November, whilst at other times of the year, the impalas almost completely ignore the passing scavengers.

While it may seem cruel to talk about how predators exploit an abundance of impala lambs, it is part of the circle of life here in the wild African bush. Some solace we can take away from this situation is that due to the ingenious seasonal flood of young impalas, both the predators and the impalas of the Sabi Sands area somehow manage to come away from the situation flourishing.

And to cap it off….

Here’s wishing all our followers a prosperous New Year, and may you all flourish like the Impala and stay alert like the leopard in 2022.

Hope to see you all in 2022.

Written by Chitwa Chitwa Head Guide, Deon Wessels