We head out to Mokolodi Nature Reserve on Saturday afternoons to drive around, sit by the lake, and have a pizza and some drinks under the thatched roof. It was the last place we visited in Gaborone in 2015 and one of the first places we went back to this time around.
The restaurant is excellent, and we’re often treated to dinner theater – Mokolodi-style. The bar overlooks a waterhole and almost every Saturday night, groups of freeloading impalas gather around to nibble the salt lick, have a drink, and enjoy the delicious hay that Mokolodi leaves out for them. Sometimes, the adolescents get so excited to see the food, they jump around. It’s hilarious.
Their behavior at the waterhole is interesting to watch. They’re beautiful antelope, the males with ridged, curving horns, but extremely skittish. They startle at the slightest noise or sight – real or perceived. The first takers at the waterhole are the harem members. They eat jostling each other, or flank to flank, but they make room for the main bull – who saunters in last and who gets prime feeding spots and a wide berth. Occasionally, another male and his harem will show up, and the waterhole is renegotiated in some way Steve and I aren’t privy to.
They can’t stray far from water, but they are otherwise supremely adaptable. One of our books notes that, unlike many animals, where humans spread, impalas spread. They’re both browsers and grazers, and this lack of specialization means that they easily inhabit places where strict browsers or grazers can’t go. And as land changes with human interference, impalas fill in a niche.
They live in loose herds – sometimes numbering in the hundreds. Bulls guard their harems jealously and the only way for a young bull to start his own harem is to manage to peel off some of the cows, who will stay with the herd in which they become pregnant and give birth. Calves are watches by many members of the herd, who set up babysitting systems to allow mothers to eat and drink.
Impalas are ubiquitous here – so much so that we don’t pay them much mind anymore. That changed a bit as the babies started arriving – they are adorable. One night we saw one that was so tiny I was certain he had been born that morning. He laid down by the waterhole while the herd ate round him. The past few weeks have revealed more and more babies – right on schedule, as they typically are born between November and January. Cute, right?