African Buffalo Facts. The fearless gangster of the African wilderness

African buffaloes are easily identified because they look close to the domesticated cattle, and yet have the distinct horns that join to cove up the forehead.

African buffaloes are among the most widely spread animals that many people see in the national parks and game reserves when on Safari. Because they look like domestic cattle, it is very easy to misunderstand the buffaloes.

The truth is that these African buffaloes are very wild, and actually as dangerous as hippos or crocodiles, when it comes to the danger they pose to humans - and wild animals. That is why they are part of the big-five animals.

In this article, we'll go through the things that make African buffaloes very interesting. From their strange horns to their aggressive nature and 'voting' social structure, African buffaloes are fascinating.

Facts About African Buffaloes

How many kinds of African buffaloes exist?

There are five kinds (sub-species) of the African buffalo.

Cape buffalo

  Buffalo Subspecies  Description Where it lives
1 Cape buffalo The largest in size, and most common subspecies Eastern and Southern Africa
2 Forest buffalo (dwarf/congo buffalo) The smallest in size and with a red color. Forests of Central and West Africa 
3 Sudan buffalo Intermediate in size between the cape & forest buffalo. West Africa
4 Nile buffalo Similar to Cape buffalo, but slightly small and a lighter color Central Africa
5 Mountain buffalo (Virunga buffalo)   Mountainous areas of DRC, Rwanda & Uganda.

Where do African buffaloes live?

As the name suggests, African buffaloes live on the  African continent in the grasslands and forests of many countries below the Sahara desert. Buffaloes prefer environments that have plenty of grass for grazing as well as drinking water.

The cape buffalo is found in most of Eastern and Southern Africa while the forest buffalo is common in the forested areas of Central and Western Africa.

herd of buffaloes

Are African buffalo dangerous?

African buffaloes are very dangerous because of their highly unpredictable behavior. They are part of the big-five animals for a reason, and they are well known for charging at poachers or hunters with the purpose of killing.

African buffaloes are thought to be as dangerous as the hippopotamus and they kill a comparable number of humans each year. 

Related article: Why are hippos dangerous

Do buffaloes actually kill lions?

Cape buffaloes have been known to fight, kill or chase lions on occasion. Buffaloes engage in mobbing behavior when fighting off a predator and sometimes this results in a dead lion.

Because of the large buffalo herd size, lions can sometimes die from being trampled by the group of buffaloes.

Lions will often not prey on adult cape buffaloes because there is easier prey. Angry buffaloes have been observed chasing lions until the lions climbed trees to hide from the African buffaloes.

African buffalo

Are Cape buffaloes intelligent?

African buffaloes exhibit some intelligent behavior, such as having a clear social structure, staying in a range close to the water, and being really vengeful. An attacked buffalo will go after the attacker (human or animal) with everything it has.

Many hunters have lost their lives because their first shot didn't kill the buffalo and it charged at them with resolve.

What do African buffalo eat?

buffaloes drinking water

The African cape buffalo is a herbivore and likes to eat grasses and shrubs. Buffaloes prefer grass to shrubs and are often referred to as nature's lawnmowers because of how they can quickly thin out dense grasses.

How much does an African buffalo weigh?

African Buffaloes are big and heavy animals that can weigh up to 1000 kg (2200 lb). The Cape subspecies (which is the most common) is the biggest and heaviest while the forest buffalo is approximately half in size and weight.

Can African buffaloes be domesticated?

Because of their unpredictable temper, African buffaloes have never been domesticated. Their Asian counterpart, the water buffalo has been tamed and domesticated, but not the African buffalo.

Are African Cape buffaloes related to cattle?

African buffaloes are not related to domestic cattle. They are related to the water buffalo from Asia. Due to the unpredictable temper, it is believed that African buffaloes have never been domesticated.

How long do Cape buffaloes live?

In the wild, African buffaloes live for around 20 years while they can live up to 30 years. The oldest recorded Cape buffalo lived for 32 years.

In the wild, the buffaloes have to deal with diseases, predators, and other environmental factors.

How many buffaloes are in a herd?

gang of African buffaloes

African cape buffaloes are very social and live in herds of various sizes. Large herds can comprise more than 1,000 buffaloes that belong to sub-herds and respect the social structure of the entire herd.

The herd of African buffaloes can also be called a "gang". Probably the most gangster name of all African animals.

How often do buffaloes give birth?

African buffaloes give birth every 2 to 3 years after a gestation period of 11.5 months. The newborn calf is kept hidden in vegetation for a few weeks while it is being nursed by the mother before it can join the herd.

When do Cape buffaloes give birth?

Cape buffaloes only give birth in the rainy season. The start of the rainy season is the peak period for giving birth while the end of the wet season is the peak time for mating.

How can you tell male and female buffaloes apart?

The easiest way for you to tell buffaloes apart is by their size and horns. Male buffaloes are bigger than females in size and have horns.

In males, the base of the horns grows closer together to finally form a shield, commonly referred t as a "boss". The females do not have the "boss" and their horns are smaller in size (around 15%)

How do African buffaloes communicate?

Buffaloes use several vocalizations to communicate with each other. They emit low-pitched calls that are similar to those made by domestic cattle. As they graze, African buffaloes also make sounds such as brief bellows, grunts, and honks.

Are Cape buffaloes in danger?

Of all the animals in Africa's wilderness, the Cape buffalo is among those not in any immediate danger. The numbers and distribution are good in many national parks.

The only dangers faced by cape buffalo are the same dangers faced by all the animals, human activity, and climate change.

How many African buffaloes are left in the wild?

According to the African Wildlife Foundation, there are about 900,000 cape buffaloes left in the wild. This is inclusive of all 5 subspecies. It is estimated that around 10,000 new buffaloes are born each year and thus their population is stable and not at immediate risk.

What threats do buffaloes face?

Buffaloes face very little threat of predators in the wild. While lions do kill them for food, it takes an entire pride to kill one buffalo and usually, the whole herd of buffaloes is able to protect itself (and even hurt the lions)

Besides, the struggle of the jungle, African buffaloes face a problem of a shrinking habitat due to human activity. Human activity and the effects of climate change are a big challenge to all animals and their ecosystems, and buffaloes are not exempt. 

Do African buffaloes get sick?

African buffaloes do get many diseases such as foot and mouth disease and corridor disease (East Coast fever). These diseases can remain dormant within the herds as long as the buffaloes are healthy. 

Whenever a sickness outbreak is detected, the park authorities try to separate the disease-free herds from the infected herds. This is why moving wild animals from one place to another is a lengthy process.

Why do buffaloes always have birds?

buffalo with birds

African buffaloes have a very symbiotic relationship that benefits both the buffalo and the birds. The birds feed on the ticks and parasites that are on the buffalo, which is good for the buffalo because these parasites suck a lot of blood and can weaken the animal.

This is why buffaloes are happy to keep the company of birds, and birds equally happy to help.

Final thoughts

Hopefully, you now understand why African buffaloes are part of the big 5, and why you have to be careful around them. They are a very volatile and vengeful gang.

If you get to take an African Safari that has buffaloes, hopefully, you will remember all these fascinating facts and be grateful for the scientists who have dedicated their time to study these awesome and altruistic animals.

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