Only distantly related to the bison (American buffalo), the Cape buffalo is the main species of buffalo found on the plains of Africa. They are instantly recognizable from their horns, which sweep across the top of their skulls. However, they are also known for their belligerent temperament, which make Cape buffalo one of Africa’s most dangerous species.
Buffaloes live in herds, and are particularly protective of their young, surrounding them with a ring of outward facing horns when predators threaten them. While buffalo are a major food source for lions, these big cats have to be careful, with more than one report of buffaloes trampling them to death to defend themselves. Indeed, members of a herd will often mob predators to try and rescue an individual in trouble. Other predators of the buffalo include hyenas and Nile crocodiles.
It’s therefore understandable that only the strongest predators would dare attack a buffalo herd. Adult animals are a stocky mass of muscle weighing at least a ton. The most dangerous to humans are known as dagga (‘mud-covered’) boys – older males no longer strong enough to challenge other males for mating rights. Around 200 human deaths are reported each year. Hunters call them ‘widowmakers.’
Mating takes place during Africa’s wet season, after females have given birth to calves conceived the year before. The gestation period of the Cape buffalo is 11.5 months. The youngest calves are hidden in grasses away from the herd, while older ones join the adults. During the following dry season, males split from their herds and form bachelor groups with animals of a similar age.
Where to See Them
Cape buffalo are the easiest of the Big Five species to spot while on safari. Africa’s total population is estimated at 400,000 individuals. Head to any of the big national parks, and you’ve got a great chance of encountering them. The national parks to head to include South Africa’s Kruger, Botswana’s Chobe, Kenya’s Maasai Mara, and Zambia’s South Luangwa.