The pugnacious African buffalo, Africa’s only extant species of wild cattle, is a worthy member of the elite “Big-5” group of animals. Though they can appear very docile, buffalo are extremely dangerous, especially when threatened or wounded; they’ve even been known to circle back around hunters tracking them to launch unexpected attacks on their persecutors from behind.
These bulky animals weigh in between 500 and 900kg, with adult bulls being much larger than the cows.
African buffalo inhabit a wide range of habitats, ranging from open grassy plains to dense rainforest, their most important requirements being an ample supply of fresh grazing, regular access to drinking water, and cover in which to evade (or ambush) predators.
Buffalo are gregarious animals, congregating in herds that may number into the thousands. Encountering one of these huge herds is among Africa’s most memorable experiences.
Old bulls that cannot keep up with the breeding herds become loners or join “bachelor” groups. It is these old “dagga boys” that have the worse reputation of being overly aggressive and extremely dangerous, probably due to being easier targets for hunters and predators than members of the well-protected herds where there’s safety in numbers.
Calves are normally born during the rainy season, and can keep up with their maternal herds within hours of birth. Buffalo of all ages are a favourite prey of lions, and large herds are often followed by prides of lion that specialise in taking down these powerful animals, despite the good chance that they’ll pay with their lives for their boldness. Buffalo are also susceptible to a wide range of diseases and parasites, and have a natural life expectancy of between 15 and 30 years.
Today, the buffalo remains one of Africa’s most numerous game species, with the IUCN estimating that a population of around 830,000 roam the continent, despite the pressures of hunting and habitat loss. In South Africa, large populations can be found in the Kruger National Park, Addo Elephant Park, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park and iSimangaliso Wetland Park.