Baby impala being hand fed by Steven

The story of Houdini, the orphaned impala baby of Letaba.

While we are waiting for the impala lambs to arrive around Malelane Gate and Berg en Dal, I remembered something that happened a few years ago. It is the story of Houdini, the baby impala whose mother was eaten by hyenas.


Alex was just a tiny two-month-old then and we had emigrated to South Africa and Letaba only a month before. It was a hectic time for me. Adjusting to the heat, a new country, even though I had been to South Africa and Kruger many times before. It was an even bigger adjustment doing this all as a new mother. But I digress…


We used to hear hyenas around the staff village all the time. That night, while I was up with this little baby of mine, I noticed they were extremely active close by. Their whoop whoop and cackling sounds were echoing through the night. In my sleep-deprived state, I completely forgot about it until Steven got a call the next morning.


One of our neighbours was about to go to work when she found a lone tiny impala lamb wandering close to her fence. It looked so lost and so small. Steven went over to have a look and found what was left of the impala’s mother’s carcass close by. There were hyena tracks all over. So that was what the noise was all about last night! The hyenas had caught the pour lambs mother…


There was no way this little impala would make it on its own. It was just too young. We estimated it to be only a few days old. Steven and our neighbour managed to coax the baby into her yard, where she tried to get it to take a bottle.


Houdini in our neighbours yard.
Houdini in our neighbours yard.

None of us in the staff village had any experience in raising orphaned antelope so our neighbour phoned the vet in Skukuza for some advice. She said she would take it and raise it at the bomas. Her husband would come and fetch it the next day and we decided to keep it in our neighbour’s yard till then. Next thing we knew, the little impala had escaped from her yard!


So we brought the little lamb into our yard. I was going to be home all day and it would be easier for me to keep an eye on it. Steven gave it a bottle of milk and it was actually getting a little milk in. It would take some time and effort to get it to drink from the bottle nicely.


orphaned impala baby drinking bottle
Drink up little one!

Our neighbour and Steven had to go to camp. After they left I sat on our stoep holding baby Alex while I was watching this tiny baby impala that lost its mother. It was bouncing around our yard, softly calling out for its mom. My new mother heart bled for it and I wished that we could keep it (Hormones!!), but I realized it would be better off with someone that knew what they were doing. At least we could start by trying to get it to take a bottle.


orphaned little impala, KNP
Trying to get Houdini to drink

Later that afternoon, I had to feed Alex and put him in bed. When I went to check on the little lamb, it had vanished from our garden! After a frantic search through the staff village, we eventually found it three yards down. This little impala sure knew how to escape, so we called it Houdini!!


Houdini spent the night in our neighbour’s bathroom. She is extremely good with baby animals, and Steven and I had our own human baby to look after. The next morning Houdini was on his way to Skukuza, riding in style in the back seat of a double cab bakkie.


Before I go off searching for the newborn impalas in our area again (I admit, I am a bit obsessed with them) I do have to mention something. The decision to interfere with nature is always a difficult one. In most cases, SANParks will only decide to help an animal if it is injured by man (a snare for instance), or if it is an endangered species. In other situations, they prefer to let nature take its course. They are wild animals after all. (I wrote a blog about that a few months ago: Our bushbuck baby orphaned)


In some cases, like with Houdini, an exception is made. In this situation, I think because he lost his mom in the staff village. We could not just sit around and do nothing. But fostering orphaned babies is definitely not standard operating procedure.



















8 thoughts on “The story of Houdini, the orphaned impala baby of Letaba.

  1. Lovely story Linda. I’m glad Houdini got a chance at survival. My sister spent a couple of weeks looking after a baby blue duiker that had been caught in a fire somewhere and had burnt hooves. It took a great deal of time and patience. Eventually it went to CROW .

  2. Hi Linda.. what a lovely story.. so glad that the vet decided to look after it
    I wrote some time to you telling you that we have sort of similar stories.. I was a hostie for British Airways when I went on holiday to Lower Sabie where I met Hannes who was working there.. now we have been married for many years, Hannes left the park and decided to become a pilot! But we come to Krueger as often as we can, as a matter of fact we are driving to Krueger this week Friday.. would love to meet up with you if you have time
    Regards Barbara Van Rensburg

    1. Hi Barbara,
      Thank you! It would be lovely to meet up with you! Did you get my replies to your previous comments? Maybe not… I’ll send you an email. Hope to see you soon! Regards, Linda

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