It was DC’s birthday. We set out early in the morning excited about what this new year would bring. Not far from camp, Muba slowed down the car and we came across a hyena. Eagerly we looked out and not-so eagerly, we realised that the first sight of the day was a hyena throwing up. Not quite the most auspicious start to being a year older.
We were horrified to be faced not only with the hyena retchnig up its breakfast, but it also eating its vomitus afresh. Check out the video where I exclaim about how gross it all is. Muba is in the background trying valiantly to explain that hyenas gulp down their food so fast in case of being chased off the food that they often get undigestion and have to re-eat what they ate.
We moved on after the rather grisly start to the day. Toward mid-morning, we came across another land rover stopped at the side of the road. There was an impala lying in a thicket all alone. We wondered what the fuss was seeing as impalas are rather common in the Serengeti. Sure, she was a fine specimen, but why stop the vehicle for so long? Then the penny dropped. This impala was giving birth! Look carefully below and you can just about make out the baby, still dark from the birth fluids. Its ears are down and it’s facing its mother’s rump. The mother has a beautiful and vulnerable expression on her face, all the time watching that those large metal animals watching her weren’t going to come any closer.
We were enthralled by the baby’s head flopping up and down in its effort to wriggle out from the birthing canal. Soon it was out completely and the mother got to her feet as soon as she could, afterbirth dangling between her legs. First, she turned round and licked off all the blood and tears from the womb from her baby. Then, she reached her head behind and consumed the bright red orb of the afterbirth. It was such a natural thing to conserve and recycle her resources.
Just a few minutes had passed and it was already time for the baby to stand. It helped that it had to stand to start suckling and after a few false starts, it successfully stood and had its first meal.
Then it was time to start walking. The mother walked away from the kid, doing its best to induce it to take its first steps. It is crucial for an impala, or any antelope for that matter, to start walking within 15 minutes of birth. An impala about to give birth would go away from the herd, mainly to avoid leading predators to the herd. The smell of blood attracts predators and not being able to walk quickly for a newborn means a it is easy game.
The baby needed a little coaxing and the mother went back to give it a few more encouraging licks.
And finally, after a few false starts, the baby is ready to go off to face the world.
It certainly was a special birthday for DC, going in a strange cycle from death to birth. How many people can say they witnessed an impala’s birth on their birthday?