Buffalo Facts | Southern Africa Wildlife Guide
The most common species, a very large, black-pelted grassland dweller, can weigh up to 1,764 pounds. One subspecies, the forest buffalo, is smaller and reddish, with less robust horns. And at least two intermediate forms are found in grassland areas where large forests merge with grasslands. In East Africa, however, animals seen in forest clearings or along grassy roads will certainly be African buffalo.
HABITATIn general, buffaloes favor grassland, whether it be open, wooded or bushed. They feed and travel most often during the early morning, evening and nighttime. Buffalos spend the rest of their time lying in shade, similar to cows in a field, although they likely sleep for only about an hour per day. They are never farther than nine miles from a water
PROTECTIONThe enormous, domineering horns of the buffalo, along with its pure size, offer it ample protection. These attributes have allowed blind, lame and even three-legged individuals to survive longer than could have been expected. Solitary bulls, however, without the formidable protection of numbers, commonly fall prey to
An explosive snort from a buffalo heralds alarm. This is followed by a nose-up posture oriented at the intruder, who should begin looking for the nearest tree if the buffalo is a lone male. An alarm in a cow-calf herd will bring the others to
BUFFALO SOCIETYBuffalo herds have relatively stable compositions, changed only by births and deaths. On average, group size for a Cape buffalo herd is about 350
Despite their herding instincts, the basic social unit appears to be an adult female, her suckling calf from last season’s breeding and her two-year-old. When any one of the three is incapacitated, the other two will stick together. Vocalizations play only a small role in social encounters; calves bleat and cows grunt in order to call their calves. Otherwise, buffaloes remain relatively silent without the typical bovine lowing.
Cow-calf groups do not appear to have obvious leaders. Decisions on which direction a resting group should move next seem to be taken by a form of voting. During the period of resting and rumination, individual females occasionally stand up, face a particular direction for a few moments and then lie down again. After a couple of hours, the entire herd will move off in the direction that most buffaloes faced when standing. Voting seems to pay off for the
A LOT OF BULLBachelor groups of 10 to 15 members are
The major threat is a lateral display, with the head lifted and nose pointed to the ground. Presented from the side, the thickness and power of the neck and shoulder muscles are shown to full advantage. Seen from the front, the posture emphasizes the size and raised
Wallowing in mud holes is a common practice that appears to have a social function in addition to keeping animals cool and discouraging skin parasites. A particular wallow, apart from being foul smelling in its own right, may take on the scent of the bull which lays claim to it. The wallow thus serves as a passive territory marker. Cattle egrets can often be found in the company of wallowing buffaloes, and these birds give away the presence of buffalo concealed within a swamp.
BREEDINGMales test for females in heat by sniffing their urine and genitals; fortunately, competition for their attention does not entail much fierce fighting. Posturing and mock battles serve as substitutes for conflict, which helps to keep these large, powerful animals from injuring one another. Courtship entails a temporary male-female bond, which ends shortly after mating.
The principal calving period occurs between December and February. Calves are carried for 11.5 months and are then dropped in the midst of the herd, usually during the rains. The afterbirth is eaten and the calf is licked clean, stimulated to defecate and suckle. Upon completion of this procedure, the calf joins the grazing herd.
FEEDING HABITSBuffaloes are strictly grazers. Different species of grass and even their parts—leaves, stems
Seasonal changes in grass availability and nutritional value dictate the local movements of buffalo in semi-arid areas. During the rainy season, they will feed on open plains; in the dry season, they retreat to woodlands, hill slopes and river fringes.
Photo Credit: David Luck