||About 65 inches at the shoulder
||Dense forest to open plains
||Between 11 and 12 months
||Humans and lions
The African, or Cape, buffalo is a member of the
so-called "Big Five" group of animals, with the
elephant, rhino, lion and leopard. Once popular trophies for
hunters, these large and often dangerous animals have
continued to capture the imagination. Buffaloes have earned a
bad reputation from hunters and other people who come in close
contact with them. They are unpredictable and can be dangerous
if cornered or wounded. Though they have been known to ambush
men and are often accused of deliberate savagery, they are
usually placid if left alone.
There is only one genus and one species of buffalo in Africa, but this single
species has two different types: the large savanna buffalo and the much smaller
dwarf forest buffalo. There are also several intermediate types. The buffaloes
found in the forests of Kenya and Tanzania are the savanna type, however, and
not the true forest buffalo, which occurs only in West Africa.
Savanna buffaloes are large, heavy cowlike animals. They vary
greatly not only in size, but in the shapes of their horns and color. Adults are
usually dark gray or black (or even look red or white if they have been
wallowing in mud of that color) and the young are often reddish-brown. The
smaller forest buffalo maintains the red color even as an adult, although in
western Uganda, many savanna buffaloes are also red or pale orange instead of
black. Adults lose hair as they age.
Both male and female buffaloes have heavy, ridged horns that grow straight
out from the head or curve downward and then up. The horns are formidable
weapons against predators and for jostling for space within the herd; males use
the horns in fights for dominance.
Both savanna buffaloes and forest buffaloes live close to water. In general buffaloes
are found throughout the northern and southern savanna as well as the lowland
Buffaloes can live in herds of a few hundred, but have been known to
congregate in thousands in the Serengeti during the rainy season. The females
and their offspring make up the bulk of the herd. Males may spend much of their
time in bachelor groups. These groups are of two types, those that contain males
from 4 to 7 years of age and those that have males 12 years and older. The older
bulls often prefer to be on their own. Males do not reach their full weight
until about age 10. After this, however, their body weight and condition
decline, probably because the teeth become worn.
Sight and hearing are both rather poor, but scent is well developed in
buffaloes. Although quiet for the most part, the animals do communicate. In
mating seasons they grunt and emit hoarse bellows. A calf in danger will bellow
mournfully, bringing herd members running at a gallop to defend it.
Food sources play more of an important role than predation in regulating buffalo numbers.
Without fresh green feed, buffaloes lose condition faster than other savanna
ungulates, and so death is often due to malnutrition.
Grass forms the greatest part of the savanna buffalo's diet, although at
certain times of the year browse plants other than grass is also consumed.
Buffaloes spend more time feeding at night than during the day. They seem to
have a relatively poor ability to regulate body temperature and remain in the
shade for long periods of time in the heat of the day, or wallow in mud.
Caring for the Young
Females have their first calves at age 4 or 5. They usually calve only once
every two years. Although young may be born throughout the year, most births
occur in the rainy season when abundant grass improves the nutritional level for
the females when they are pregnant or nursing. The female and her offspring have
an unusually intense and prolonged relationship. Calves are suckled for as long
as a year and during this time are completely dependent on their mothers. Female
offspring usually stay in the natal herd, but males leave when they are about 4
If attacked, the adults in the herd form a circle around the young and face
outward. By lowering their heads and presenting a solid barrier of sharp horns,
it is difficult for predators to seize a calf. This effective group defense even
allows blind and crippled members of the herd to survive. Thus predators do not
have a major impact on buffalo herds; it is the old, solitary-living males that
are most likely to be taken by lions.
Outside the national parks in East Africa, buffaloes frequently come into
conflict with human interests. They break fences and raid cultivated crops and
may spread bovine diseases to domestic stock. They are still numerous in many
parts of East Africa, even though they have been periodically devastated by the
rinderpest virus. In other areas of Africa, buffaloes have been eliminated or
their numbers greatly reduced.
Did you know?
- The African buffalo differs from the domesticated water buffalo found in
other parts of the world, although they both superficially resemble one another.
- The buffalo is one of the most abundant of Africa's large herbivores. It
depends on water and does not live in regions with less than 10 inches of rain a