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The African Buffalo, Part of the Big Five

The African Buffalo is part of Africa’s Big Five. It is also called the Affalo, Nyathi, Cape Buffalo, or Mbogo. This African bovine is related to the larger Asian Buffalo. It is highly unpredictable and can be very dangerous. Because of this, it hasn’t yet been domesticated like the Asian buffalo. There are two types of African buffalo: the savannah buffalo and the forest buffalo.

The savannah buffalo is much larger, being roughly twice the size of the forest buffalo. These large animals can weigh as much as 900 kilograms, with the male being larger than the female.

The savannah buffalo tend to have dark brown or even black coats, the females have a more red coat. Older males can even be seen with white circles around their eyes. Forest buffalo have a more reddish brown coat, but the calves of both tend to have red coats. Their horns curve in and up, the forest buffalo’s horns tend to curve out backwards and up. This is in fact one of the more unique characteristics of the African buffalo. The horns on the bull adult have a fused base, forming a shield of bone that sometimes even a rifle bullet can’t penetrate.

The horns diverge from here, bending down, then curving smoothly up and out. Large bulls can have a horn span of up to a meter, the females don’t have these ‘shields,’ and are up to twenty percent smaller. The shield can be fully formed by the age of six. The horns of the forest buffalo are much smaller and don’t have that shield formation.

The African buffalo is a very diverse species, probably why it is so abundant. It can live in the flood plains, grasslands, swamps and forested mountains all over Africa. It does prefer heavy cover in thickets and reeds. They are often found near water sources and eat tall coarse grass like the Zebra. Buffalo herds can crop grass levels so that more selective grazing animals have better food choices. It has a long tongue and wide incisors, so it can consume grass much faster that other herbivores in Africa.

The African buffalo has few predators and can even defend itself against attacking lions. While lions do take them down on a regular basis, it can take a pride of lions to take down one buffalo. In some cases a lone lion has been able to kill one, though this is usually a young or sick animal. Nile crocodiles will often attack a solitary buffalo or calves. Beside man, other predators that are a threat to calves are spotted hyenas, leopards and occasionally cheetahs.

As far as its relationship with humans, they are dangerous animals and unpredictable. They are among the big five game animals, which was originally a way to describe five of the most dangerous animals in Africa to hunt. They are also known as the ‘widow maker,’ or ‘Black Death,’ by native Africans and with good reason. It gores or kills more than 200 people each year. As far as being dangerous, they are often categorized in the same league as the hippo and crocodile. Big game hunters find them very dangerous to go after and there are many different reports of wounded animals attacking those that hurt them.

The African buffalo is on the least concern status for conservation and its status is dependent on its value to game hunters and tourists. There are conservation efforts in place however, with patrols to keep poachers away. There are also payouts to villages that experience crop damage from these animals as well as other CAMPFIRE programs that pay back locals affected by buffalo damage. There are an estimate population of around 900,000 animals, with over three fourths of these in national parks and reserves.

There are a number of organized safaris that include the African buffalo as part of the safari experience, with many other these centered in the greater Kruger area of South Africa. You can also see them in abundance in the Chobe National Park in Botswana, the Etosha National Park in Namibia, and the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe