Impala: Species vs. Subspecies vs. Color Variation

Hank2211

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In another thread the black face impala came up and a couple of members stated that this was a color phase of regular impala. I'd like to take issue with that comment.

I think this is more than semantics, although it may not matter to most, if not almost all, of us. However, I think we need to be clear what we're talking about when we use these terms. Call it the pedant in me.

"Color phase" is used, I suggest, to refer to animals of the same species or subspecies which are identical in all genetic respects but for color. Generally, one color or another is the dominant color while another is the less common color and pops up every now and again depending on which animals breed with which animals. The less common color is due to a recessive gene which only manifests itself when the animal carrying the recessive gene mates with another animal carrying a similar recessive gene, and even then the occurrence is erratic at best. This of course can be manipulated by ensuring through a breeding program that certain animals where the recessive gene dominates only breed with similar animals, thus giving rise to more of the particular color variant than would otherwise exist in nature (though by no means 100%). Many people (see Peter Flack for example) have an issue with this sort of manipulation of wild animals.

Examples of color phase animals include black bears, where many are other colors ranging from red to cinnamon to brown, but all are urus americanus. In Africa, we often see or hear about golden wildebeest or golden oryx. A blue wildebeest is conochaetes taurinus taurinus, as is a golden wildebeest - conochaetes taurinus taurinus in every respect. It just so happens that one is not the "normal" color. That's a color phase.

As a further note, color variants or color phases do not have an independent conservation status since they occur more or less randomly depending on breeding patterns and they can be manipulated by breeders to increase the incidence of the color phase. In other words, the color phase would never be at risk of extinction unless you bred the recessive gene out of every wild animal in the species, an obvious impossibility.

To move on to species and subspecies, sticking with the blue wildebeest as an example, we can say that there are five 'races' or subspecies of blue wildebeest: the common blue or brindled gnu (C. t. taurinus, referred to above); two white-bearded wildebeests known as conochaetes taurinus mearnsi and C. t. albojubatus; the Cookson's wildebeest (C. t. cooksoni) and the Johnston's (C. t. johnstoni). All of these five races are members of the species Conochaetes taurinus. None is a color phase or color variant of the others.

All of the five races of blue wildebeest have an independent conservation status. You could breed the common blue forever and you would never get a Cookson's. Here, though, I note that these subspecies can and often do interbreed if allowed to, but the resulting animal is not one or the other but a variant of both, and likely a hybrid that those in charge of diversity would try to avoid.

So, what of the black-faced impala? Let's start first with the black impala. This animal is all black and looks like an impala, because it is, in fact, a common impala - Aepyceros melampus melampus in all respects. This animal occurs from time to time in nature, but is naturally quite rare. People have begun breeding for it and have produced more than would otherwise naturally occur (although they tend to be weak looking and fairly small in stature (at least the ones I've seen) - likely a result of the (weaker) recessive genes). There is no independent conservation status for the black impala.

The black-faced impala on the other hand is not Aepyceros melampus melampus but rather is A. melampus petersi. A. M. petersi is "comparatively rare subspecies" (Brittanica) and you will not ever breed a petersi from A. m. melampus, no matter how long and hard you try (unless somewhere along the line a petersi has interbred with a melampus, in which case you will have a mixture of both, but not pure one or the other - a hybrid).

The IUCN recognizes the black-faced impala as Aepyceros melampus ssp. petersi, and states that it is "Vulnerable" while the common impala is designated "Least Concern."

To sum up this overlong post, the black impala is a color variant. The black-faced impala is a subspecies. The black impala has no separate conservation status while the black-faced impala does.

References which I've relied upon are the IUCN Red List as well as Game Animals of the World (Stuart, 2014) as well as Encyclopedia Brittanica and some odds and ends in the genetics area. Having said that, happy to be shown the error of my ways, as usual!


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BRICKBURN

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:D Cheers: to the Pedant in all of us.
 

Royal27

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To sum up this overlong post, the black impala is a color variant. The black-faced impala is a subspecies. The black impala has no separate conservation status while the black-faced impala does.

You coulda just told me I'd used the word species when subspecies was the correct vernacular. :D
 

Newboomer

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Hank, well said and thanks for the clarification.
 

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You have me totally confused now. How do we classify the purple Impala?:)

iu
 

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Red Leg

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Just don’t bring the black faced one home in your checked bag through Atlanta or JFK.
 

Hank2211

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You coulda just told me I'd used the word species when subspecies was the correct vernacular. :D

As it turns out @Royal27, I owe you an apology (is this the first time?!). You did say that the black impala was a color phase and that the black face impala was a separate species. Yes, you were a bit wrong on the species, but I prepared to assume you were just typing quickly. Let's give it an A.

However, @Matt.M said in a couple of posts that he had been told that the black-faced impala was a color phase (note that he didn't say that - I'm now reading more carefully!).

@Red Leg then commented that many impala in Souther Africa have black-face impala genes and often exhibit the coloration, even though they are common impala. These would be hybrids, and should still be importable into the US. As he correctly points out, true black-face impala cannot be imported into the US. I have no idea how USF&W would figure out whether an impala with a black face is a black-face impala or a common impala with a black face, unless the permits and export documents say so. But it it's true that inter-breeding is that common, how does anyone know with certainty whether an impala with a black face is a black-face impala? Genetic testing would tell you, but I doubt anyone is spending that kind of money. This leads to another question: given the trophy fee differential between a black-face impala and a common impala with a black face, how do hunters make sure they aren't getting fleeced?

Is this getting any clearer?
 

Hank2211

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You have me totally confused now. How do we classify the purple Impala?:)

iu

Wow! I'd classify that as a purebred beauty! Importable anywhere. Have you set the trophy fee?!
 

mdwest

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The black-faced impala is a subspecies. The black impala has no separate conservation status while the black-faced impala does.

Does this mean Trudeau is a political subspecies with a separate conservation status?

IMG_5607.JPG


 

sestoppelman

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Species is Canadis-dumbasses. o_OOtherwise knows as Little Potato!:D:D Status is least threatened.:rolleyes:
 

IvW

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Black-faced Impala are only found in southwestern Angola and Kaokoland, so unless hunted here it would not be classified as such.

There is a big difference in facial markings of the two. Common impala often have some black on the front of the face but they are not black-faced impala. So yes if an Impala shot in SA displays some black in the face, typically just down the front, that is a bit of color phase and can definitely not be classified as a Black-faced impala. Below is what a Namibian Black-faced Impala looks like.

Black-faced Impala

56000834209e7009befb649eeafbba08.jpg
 

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Royal27

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As it turns out @Royal27, I owe you an apology (is this the first time?!). You did say that the black impala was a color phase and that the black face impala was a separate species. Yes, you were a bit wrong on the species, but I prepared to assume you were just typing quickly. Let's give it an A.

However, @Matt.M said in a couple of posts that he had been told that the black-faced impala was a color phase (note that he didn't say that - I'm now reading more carefully!).

@Red Leg then commented that many impala in Souther Africa have black-face impala genes and often exhibit the coloration, even though they are common impala. These would be hybrids, and should still be importable into the US. As he correctly points out, true black-face impala cannot be imported into the US. I have no idea how USF&W would figure out whether an impala with a black face is a black-face impala or a common impala with a black face, unless the permits and export documents say so. But it it's true that inter-breeding is that common, how does anyone know with certainty whether an impala with a black face is a black-face impala? Genetic testing would tell you, but I doubt anyone is spending that kind of money. This leads to another question: given the trophy fee differential between a black-face impala and a common impala with a black face, how do hunters make sure they aren't getting fleeced?

Is this getting any clearer?

I do think it's the first time you've apologized to me. LOL!

You'd make a great lawyer Hank! ;)
 

Red Leg

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Black-faced Impala are only found in southwestern Angola and Kaokoland, so unless hunted here it would not be classified as such.

There is a big difference in facial markings of the two. Common impala often have some black on the front of the face but they are not black-faced impala. So yes if an Impala shot in SA displays some black in the face, typically just down the front, that is a bit of color phase and can definitely not be classified as a Black-faced impala. Below is what a Namibian Black-faced Impala looks like.

Black-faced Impala

56000834209e7009befb649eeafbba08.jpg


Also a breeding population on Etosha - though obviously not huntable.

[
 
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gillettehunter

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Apparently the Feds sometimes look for a black face. My former taxidermist had troubles importing an Impala with some black on his face. I didn't hear much but he said they had impounded it when trying to import it. This was probably 10 yrs ago.
Bruce
 

Tally-Ho HUNTING SAFARIS

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hey all

in south africa, especially the further north you are, like alldays where we are, you have most impala with a slightly faded black face, not as black as the genuine black face impala, other characteristics of the black face impala are a slightly larger/heavier body and shorter thicker horns
seems over the years the black face and southern impala have interbred and the genetics very watered down except for those in the areas mentioned in original post

agree with all in the original post and well said
 

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