There, in the long green grass, stood two male impalas. Their curved horns rose several feet above their heads. With dark chestnut brown on their backs and a brownish white across their bellies, they blended into the savanna colors. Last night’s rain had slicked their fir down, but they showed no indication of being chilled. One raised its head, turning from nibbling on grass to stare right at me. I stood in the back of our vehicle with both hands gripping my binoculars, and my eyes studying every detail of these athletes. Here was the quintessential animal of the African plains, the one that everyone shows gracefully running while doing spectacular leaps.
His eyes seemed intense, the facial expression was inquisitive, and he’d pricked his two ears forward. The left one had two large tears partway out, well healed. Perhaps, a thorn snagged the ear as the antelope bounded through the scrub. His muzzle, though, really drew me. Its softness and roundness gave it a delicate mien. The lines of the nostrils came down to a split upper lip and then joined with the curved mouth. White fir-covered this area, contrasting with the chestnut of the body as if he had put on frosty lipstick that morning.
Those glossy black horns, though, rose elegantly into the air. They came up from the head, going away from each other, then curving back and up more. Their length impressive, and black rings curled around each, giving them a carved look. The generic name for this species, Aepyceros, means “high-horned” and comes from ancient Greek. I switched to photographing him and began to wonder how someone could shoot such a beauty and mount his head on a wooden plate. But was that what I was doing with a camera, capturing my trophy? Possibly, I would print and attach a portrait of this guy on my wall. My shooting didn’t seem to affect him in the least.
He turned back to munching on grass, and the other one began to urinate right in front of us. These were two bachelor males, hanging out together. A male expends a lot of energy to maintain a harem of a couple of dozen females. He usually doesn’t have the experience or strength until he is three or four years old. Then he might successfully push out a harem owner and become the dominant one. He may only be able to keep that position for a short time before he, too, is supplanted. Maybe these were young males that hadn’t made that attempt. They looked fit, in prime condition. Perhaps they regularly practice fighting among themselves, preparing for their opportunity.
For about a decade, I’ve been a bachelor, too. After my wife died, I dated a few women, and at one point I’d thought I’d found someone to spend the rest of my days with. But the stress I was under then, caused by closing an organization down and laying off all the staff, put a rift into that hope. Impala males are under constant pressure when they are defending a group of females. They must run back and forth, keeping an eye on all their does and looking for rival males who might want to usurp their position or snitch a female away. It wears them out, burns up their energy reserves, exhausts them. But it gives them a chance for sex and therefore leaving progeny. Companionship doesn’t seem to be part of it.
These two males looked like buddies, spending their days together, helping each other detect predators, finding the right morsels to chew, and sharing their experiences and thoughts. For me, that seems to be what is essential now, as I’m about to complete my seventh decade on this planet. Someone to discuss these sightings, to hear what the other saw that I failed to notice, and to find joy in the other’s thoughts, reactions, would be nice. Life develops more dimensions when it can be seen through another set of eyes.
These two impalas started to mosey into the bush, picking at grass pieces, nipping on twigs. Maybe, they were headed to a secluded spot where they could bed down and chew their cuds, processing a second time that quick meal of the morning. Now, that is a good life!