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The Big 5: The African Buffalo

Buffalo resemble cattle from far off. They are covered in short black or charcoal coloured hair. They have a heavy and solid set of horns, especially in the males who have bigger horns than females and a thicker section where the horns meet on the head called the boss. Horns are used for defence against lions and for dominance amongst other male buffalo. One of the heaviest males weighed 800kg. Average length is 3,3 m and 1.46m shoulder height. That's a huge animal with weight and and dangerous horns. Buffalo are also extremely agile for such bulky looking animals. They can turn on a ticky, so forget about out smarting a buff on your feet, and their top speed is about 45km.

Buffalo are very gregarious. I have driven through a herd in Kruger National Park and everywhere I looked as far as I could see I kept on seeing buffalo, even when I thought I had broken out of the herd there were more buffalo. It is not unheard of to sight herds of up to 2000 in parts of Africa. Buffalo typically graze in the early morning and evening, ruminating in the shade during the heat of the day and drink once or twice a day.

Buffalo can often be seeing lying almost on top of one another in the hottest time of the day while they ruminate.

Adult bulls form their own small herds called bachelor groups of about 5 bulls and rejoin the big herds for mating. Old bulls go solo or form groups of 2 or 3 and hang out in gullies and near water and good grazing. We call them "daga bulls". This because they are often covered in mud which protects them from the sun as their hair is also thinner at age. The mud resembles the cement (daga) on the skin of construction site workers who mix cement and are referred to as "daga boys" in South African culture. Mud bathing is common amongst buff but also a privilege for high ranking animals.

Buffalo bull covered in sun baked mud.

Social status exists amongst buffalo. When in a large herd the males loose their status they might have had in the bachelor group. Hierarchy is shown by holding heads high with nose pointing to the ground, tossing the head and horn hooking. Submission is shown by putting the nose under the belly of a higher ranking animal. Males fight over access to females. Buffalo with high status will be in the front middle area of the herd where they are safest from predators. Females with a young calf are automatically given status in the herd.

The "boss" of the horns on a mature male buffalo

Buffalo rank as one of the Big 5 because they can be extremely dangerous if surprised, sick or wounded. They have poor eyesight but a excellent sense of smell. They are not scared to defend or attack lions and predators lurking around the herd. Many hunters have been gouged by buffalo in the past while tracking down an injured animal. There are many stories about buffalo ambushing unsuspecting hunters! A tell tale sign that helps guides when they know buff are present but cannot see any other signs is the tweet of the oxpecker birds who sit on buffalo and feed on the ticks and other pests.

Visit South Africa with its abundant game reserves and national parks with Move Safaris and view huge herds of buffalo. Move Safaris has a page where you BUDGET BUFFALO DEALS where you will find excellent deals on discounted and reduced price tours, last minute and last available seats on offer! Go now!

About the author: Jonathan James Clements is a South African safari guide and travel writer. He currently resides in Switzerland from where he organises tours and safaris in Southern Africa, with a special focus on South Africa.

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