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Cape Buffalo – Facts and My Personal Encounter

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Taking a siesta close to my fence

Taking a siesta close to my fence

My Encounter

I have encountered herds of buffalo (one of the Big Five game animals in Africa) in some of the many game parks in South Africa. I remember once when I was held up by a huge herd in the road, worrying that I would not make it to the camp in the Kruger National Park before the gate closed. There were many stories of buffaloes attacking cars, so I played it safe.

Only recently did I have a closer encounter, which opened my eyes to how special these beasts are: there is an energy exuding from the sheer size, the way they always look straight at you, those horns. I own a very small plot, enclosed inside a private game farm in the North West Bushveld, where I used to roam about as I pleased. The owners of the farm decided to add a small group of five buffalo bulls to the mix of antelope. Although they were still young and apparently not aggressive, I dared anyone to walk around these animals without keeping their distance.

Sometimes they come right up to my house for their siesta under a thorn tree. Their beautiful horns make half-circles in the yellow grass. From time to time, they try to put their heads down to the side, as if they forgot about their crowns of glory, which are apparently also a burden.

With a wire fence between us, I ventured closer to them, playing guitar and reading out loud. Apparently, they liked that. Sometimes when I encountered them on a walk, they just gave me long, intense stares, then relaxed and went on grazing.

But I wasn't taking any chances, and I planned walks in the opposite direction from where they were previously seen.

Grazing six meters away from my gate

Grazing six meters away from my gate

One of the Big Five on a South African hundred-rand note

One of the Big Five on a South African hundred-rand note

Range of subspecies of African Buffalo

Range of subspecies of African Buffalo

Cape Buffalo Facts

There are many websites that give the basic facts of vital statistics concerning buffalo.

The African buffalo or Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer) is a large African bovine. Its ancestry remains unclear. There are five subspecies (from Wikipedia) of which these 3 are most commonly known:

  • Syncerus caffer, the Cape buffalo, the largest one, found in South and East Africa.
  • S. c. nanus (African forest buffalo) is the smallest subspecies, common in forest areas of Central and West Africa,
  • S. c. brachyceros is in West Africa and S. c. aequinoctialis is in the savannas of Central Africa.

Buffaloes need to drink water often and graze close to water sources. They also graze at night and sometimes fall prey to lions but are capable of defending themselves, and the herd often comes to the rescue of individuals. It usually takes a few lions to bring down a buffalo.

The Cape buffalo is susceptible to diseases, including bovine tuberculosis, corridor disease, and foot and mouth disease.

The core of the herd is made up of related females and there are clear lines of dominance. The core herd is surrounded by subherds of subordinate males, high-ranking males and females, and old or invalid animals. During the dry season, males form bachelor groups. These groups are either made up of young bulls or older bulls (older than 12). During mating season, the younger bulls join a herd to mate with the females and then to protect the calves. Older bulls do not always rejoin the herd. Males have a linear dominance hierarchy based on age and size.

Adult bulls spar in play, dominance interactions, or actual fights. Actual fights are violent but rare and brief. Calves may also spar in play, but adult females rarely spar at all.

Some articles refer to a pathfinder who walks in front (usually a dominant female), but there is also an indication that the females "vote" by sitting or lying in the direction they think the herd should move next. This decision seems to be communal rather than based on dominance. Walking in front does mean that you get the choice of grazing, and that is related to dominance.

Additional Facts



• Its shoulder height can range from 1.0 to 1.7 m and its head-and-body length can range from 1.7 to 3.4 m The tail can range from 70 to 110 cm (28 to 43 in) long


• Buffaloes weigh 500 to 900 kg

How many people killed per year

Estimated 200


• The horns of the adult male African buffalo forrms a continuous bone shield referred to as a "boss". From the base, the horns diverge downwards, then smoothly curve upwards and outwards. In large bulls, the distance between the ends of the horns can reach upwards of one metre. Cows have a less pronounced boss and have slightly smaller horns


• Cows first calve at five years of age, after a gestation period of 11.5 months. • Newborn calves remain hidden in vegetation for the first few weeks • Older calves are held in the centre of the herd for safety. • The maternal bond between mother and calf lasts longer than in most bovids. • Young calves, unusually for bovids, suckle from behind their mothers, pushing their heads between the mothers' legs


• In the most recent and available census data the total estimated numbers of the three African buffalo savanna subspecies (S. c. caffer, S. c. brachyceros, S. c. aequinoctialis) are at 513,000 individuals. They are not on the endangered species list, even though there are concerns with bovine tuberculosis in the Kruger National Park


  • Domestic cattle-like sounds: low-pitched, two- to four-second calls intermittently at three- to six-second intervals to signal the herd to move.
  • Gritty, creaking sounds to signal the herd to change direction
  • When moving to drinking places, some individuals make long "maaa" calls up to 20 times a minute.
  • When being aggressive, they make explosive grunts that may last long or turn into a rumbling growl.
  • Cows produce croaking calls when looking for their calves.
  • When grazing, they make various sounds, such as brief bellows, grunts, honks, and croaks.
The famous Ernest Hemingway posing with a buffalo he shot (1953)

The famous Ernest Hemingway posing with a buffalo he shot (1953)

Cape Buffalo Stories

There are many stories about Buffaloes – mostly of close encounters and escapes, buffaloes charging hunters, and hunters killed and injured.

I must confess: I hate trophy hunting and, of course, canned hunting that often goes hand in hand with that. When I look at these videos posted by the safari organisers and the proud American hunters, I feel disgusted: a group of 5 or 6 men (mostly) in their gear in a Jeep, the Big Hunter in tow with his bow and arrow, coming in close to their target, then shooting the buffalo (or more than one) and shaking hands, pats on the backs, and then the inevitable photo shoot, with the bow and arrow, and the head of the animal choreographed in front of the brave hunter.

A well-known hunter recently got killed by a buffalo in Zimbabwe. Owain Lewis, 67, had been tracking the animal for three days to finish it off after it was shot and injured by a visiting American hunter he was escorting.

There are also stories of buffaloes taking on a lion pride, coming to the rescue of a calf in a tug of war between a crocodile and lions, and a buffalo being bullied by a rhinoceros (see video above).


Tragedy struck at the iBamba Private Game Reserve near Jansenville when 29-year-old André de Villiers, an employee of the Reserve, was killed by a buffalo.

National Geographic explorer in residence Dereck Joubert has shared the gory and intimate details of a buffalo charge that nearly claimed the life of fellow explorer and wife Beverly Joubert.


Trophy Hunter Fatally Gored By Herd Mate Of Buffalo He’d Just Killed

Proud hunters killing the magnificent Cape buffalo – an apparently sought-after experience

Proud hunters killing the magnificent Cape buffalo – an apparently sought-after experience

Sources and Further Reading

© 2016 elnavann


elnavann (author) from South Africa on October 10, 2019:

Hi Kenneth. Thank you for the comments. I believe hunting was just accepted by most people. It is only now that we have the perspective of animals getting extinct - and animal rights - that people think differently

Kenneth Avery from Hamilton, Alabama on October 10, 2019:

Elna: Hi. It is so nice to meet and to follow you on HubPages. I loved this article and i am sure that I will love the rest of your works. The graphics were No. 1 along with the lay-out.

I was impressed at how we can be friends with wild animals. I have always loved tigers that I could raise from a cub. i was equally-impressed at finding -out that Hemingway was a hunger. This is hard to swallow because I thought for years that he was a pacifisist.

Live and learn.

Write me anytime. And again, Welcome to HubPages.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on October 10, 2019:

That was an incredible video of the buffalo getting their calf back from lions... not to mention the alligators. I would walk the other way away from them too.