African Buffalo
The African buffalo, affalo, nyati, Mbogo or Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer) is a large African bovine. It is not closely related to the slightly larger wild Asian water buffalo
Wild Asian Water Buffalo
The wild water buffalo also called Asian buffalo and Asiatic buffalo is a large bovine native to Southeast Asia...

, but its ancestry remains unclear. Owing to its unpredictable nature which makes it highly dangerous to humans, it has not been domesticated, unlike its Asian counterpart, the domestic Asian water buffalo.


The African buffalo is a very robust species. Its shoulder height can range from 1 to 1.7 m (3.3 to 5.6 ft) and its head-and-body length can range from 1.7 to 3.4 m (5.6 to 11.2 ft). The tail can range from 70 to 110 cm (27.6 to 43.3 in) long. Savannah type buffaloes weigh 500 to 910 kg (1,102.3 to 2,006.2 lb), with males, normally larger than females, reaching the upper weight range. A record-sized savannah-type male weighed 1000 kg (2,204.6 lb). Forest type buffaloes
African Forest Buffalo
The African Forest Buffalo is smaller than the Cape Buffalo, with horns that curves out backwards and upwards. Usually weighing , they are reddish brown in color. Its native habitat is the equatorial forest found in central and western Africa, and its diet consists primarily of grasses, twigs, and...

, at 250 to 455 kg (551.2 to 1,003.1 lb), are only half that size. Its head is carried low, its top located below the backline. The front hooves of the buffalo are wider than the rear, which is associated with the need to support the weight of the front part of the body, which is more powerful than the back

Savannah type buffalo have black or dark brown coats with age. Old bulls have whitish circles around their eyes. Females tend to have more reddish coats. Forest type buffalo are reddish brown in colour with horns that curve out backwards and upwards. Calves of both types have red coats.

The horn
Horn (anatomy)
A horn is a pointed projection of the skin on the head of various animals, consisting of a covering of horn surrounding a core of living bone. True horns are found mainly among the ruminant artiodactyls, in the families Antilocapridae and Bovidae...

s of African buffalo are very peculiar. A characteristic feature of them is the fact that the adult bull's horns have fused bases, forming a continuous bone shield referred to as a "boss," which can not always be penetrated even by a rifle bullet. From the base the horns diverge, then bend down, and then smoothly curve upwards and outwards. The distance between the ends of the horns of large bulls is more than a metre. The young buffalo horn boss forms fully only upon reaching the age of 5–6 years. In cows the horns are, on average, 10-20% less, and the boss is less prominent. Forest buffalo horns are much smaller and weaker than those of the savannah buffaloes and are almost never fused. They rarely reach a length of even 40 cm.


  • Syncerus caffer caffer (Cape buffalo) - typical subspecies, the largest one, with large males weighing up to 910 kg (2,006.2 lb). It is peculiar to South and East Africa. Buffalos of this subspecies living in the south of the continent, notably high in size and ferocity - the so-called cape buffalo. Color of this subspecies is the darkest, almost black.
  • S. c. nanus (Forest buffalo
    African Forest Buffalo
    The African Forest Buffalo is smaller than the Cape Buffalo, with horns that curves out backwards and upwards. Usually weighing , they are reddish brown in color. Its native habitat is the equatorial forest found in central and western Africa, and its diet consists primarily of grasses, twigs, and...

    ) - smallest subspecies - the height at the withers less than 120 cm and average weight of about 270 kg (595.2 lb). Color dwarf buffalo red, with darker patches on the head and shoulders in the ears form a brush. Dwarf buffalo is common in forest areas of Central and West Africa. This subspecies is so different from the standard model, which some researchers consider it still a separate species S. nanus Between the typical subspecies and dwarf hybrids are not uncommon
  • S. c. brachyceros (Sudanese buffalo), who is in morphological terms intermediate between those two subspecies. Occurs in West Africa . Its dimensions are relatively small, especially compared to other buffalo, found in Cameroon, which weigh half as the South African subspecies (bull weighing 600 kg (1,322.8 lb) is considered to be in these places are already very large).
  • S. c. aequinoctialis (Nile buffalo), which is confined to Central Africa . It is similar to the Cape buffalo, but somewhat smaller, and its color is lighter.
  • S. c. mathewsi (Mountain buffalo) (this subspecies is not universally recognized). It lives in mountainous areas of East Africa.


The African buffalo is one of the most successful grazers in Africa. It lives in swamps, floodplains as well as mopane
The mopane or mopani tree grows in hot, dry, low-lying areas, in elevation, in the far northern parts of southern Africa, into South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Botswana, Zambia, Namibia, Angola and Malawi. The tree only occurs in Africa and is the only species in genus Colophospermum...

Grasslands are areas where the vegetation is dominated by grasses and other herbaceous plants . However, sedge and rush families can also be found. Grasslands occur naturally on all continents except Antarctica...

s and forests of the major mountains of Africa. Buffalo prefer habitat with dense cover such as reeds and thickets. Herds have also been found in open woodland and grassland. While not particularly demanding with regard to habitat, they require water daily and therefore depend on perennial sources of water. Like the Plains zebra
Plains Zebra
The plains zebra , also known as the common zebra or Burchell's zebra, is the most common and geographically widespread species of zebra. It ranges from the south of Ethiopia through East Africa to as far south as Angola and eastern South Africa...

, the buffalo can subsist on tall, coarse grasses. Herds of buffalo will reduce grass level to the height that is preferred by selective grazers. When feeding, the buffalo makes use of its tongue and wide incisor
Incisors are the first kind of tooth in heterodont mammals. They are located in the premaxilla above and mandible below.-Function:...

 row to eat grass more quickly than most other African herbivores. Buffalo do not stay on trampled or depleted areas for long.

Other than humans, African buffalo have few predators and are capable of defending themselves against (and killing) lion
The lion is one of the four big cats in the genus Panthera, and a member of the family Felidae. With some males exceeding 250 kg in weight, it is the second-largest living cat after the tiger...

s. Lions do kill and eat buffalo regularly, but it typically takes multiple lions to bring down a single adult buffalo. However there have been several incidents in which lone adult male lions have been able to successfully bring down large bulls. The Nile crocodile
Nile crocodile
The Nile crocodile or Common crocodile is an African crocodile which is common in Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Egypt, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Gabon, South Africa, Malawi, Sudan, Botswana, and Cameroon...

 will typically attack only old solitary animals and young calves. The cheetah
The cheetah is a large-sized feline inhabiting most of Africa and parts of the Middle East. The cheetah is the only extant member of the genus Acinonyx, most notable for modifications in the species' paws...

, leopard
The leopard , Panthera pardus, is a member of the Felidae family and the smallest of the four "big cats" in the genus Panthera, the other three being the tiger, lion, and jaguar. The leopard was once distributed across eastern and southern Asia and Africa, from Siberia to South Africa, but its...

 and spotted hyena
Spotted Hyena
The spotted hyena also known as laughing hyena, is a carnivorous mammal of the family Hyaenidae, of which it is the largest extant member. Though the species' prehistoric range included Eurasia extending from Atlantic Europe to China, it now only occurs in all of Africa south of the Sahara save...

 are a threat only to newborn calves, though spotted hyenas have been recorded to kill full grown bulls on occasion.


Cape Buffalo are susceptible to many diseases including Bovine tuberculosis, Corridor disease and Foot and Mouth. Like with many diseases, these problems will remain dormant within a population as long as the health of the animals is good. These diseases do however restrict the legal movements of the animals and fencing infected areas from unaffected areas is enforced. Some wardens and game managers have managed to protect and breed "disease free" herds which become very valuable because they can be transported. Most well known is Lindsay Hunt
Lindsay Hunt
Lindsay Hunt is a South African hunter turned conservationist who played an important role in a project to produce Cape Buffalo breeding stock free of bovine tuberculosis and foot-and-mouth disease...

's efforts to source uninfected animals from the Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in Africa. It covers and extends from north to south and from east to west.To the west and south of the Kruger National Park are the two South African provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga. In the north is Zimbabwe, and to the east is...

 in South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

. Some disease free buffalo in South Africa have been sold to breeders for close to US$130,000.

Social behavior

Herd size
Group size measures
Many animals, including humans, tend to live in groups, herds, flocks, bands, packs, shoals, or colonies of conspecific individuals. The size of these groups, as expressed by the number of participant individuals, is an important aspect of their social environment...

 is highly variable. The basic herds consist of related females, and their offspring, in an almost linear dominance hierarchy
Dominance hierarchy
A dominance hierarchy is the organization of individuals in a group that occurs when competition for resources leads to aggression...

. The basic herds are surrounded by sub-herds of subordinate males, high-ranking males and females and old or invalid animals. The young males keep their distance from the dominant bull, who is recognizable by the thickness of his horns.
During the dry season, male buffalo will split from the herd and form bachelor groups. There are two types of bachelor herds: ones made of males aged 4–7 years and those of males 12 years or older. During the wet season the younger bulls rejoin a herd to mate with the females. They stay with them throughout the season to protect the calves. Some older bulls cease to rejoin the herd, as they can no longer compete with the younger, more aggressive males. Males have a linear dominance hierarchy which is based on age and size. Since a buffalo is safer when a herd is larger, dominant bulls may rely on subordinate bulls and sometimes tolerate their copulation.

Adult bulls will spar in play, dominance interactions or actual fights. A bull will approach another lowing with his horns down and wait for the other bull to do the same thing. When sparring the bulls twist their horns from side to side. If the sparring is for play the bulls may rub each other's faces and bodies during the sparring session. Actual fights are violent but rare and brief. Calves may also spar in play but adult females rarely spar at all.

African buffalo are notable for their apparent altruism
Altruism in animals
Altruism is a well-documented animal behaviour, which appears most obviously in kin relationships but may also be evident amongst wider social groups, in which an animal sacrifices its own well-being for the benefit of another animal.- Overview :...

. Female buffalo appear to exhibit some sort of "voting behavior". During resting time, the females will stand up shuffle around and sit back down again. They will sit in the direction they think that they should move. After an hour of more shuffling, the females will travel in the direction they decide on. This decision is communal and not based on hierarchy or dominance. When chased by predators
In ecology, predation describes a biological interaction where a predator feeds on its prey . Predators may or may not kill their prey prior to feeding on them, but the act of predation always results in the death of its prey and the eventual absorption of the prey's tissue through consumption...

 a herd will stick close together and make it hard for the predators to pick off one member. Calves are gathered in the middle. A buffalo herd will respond to the distress call of a captured member and try to rescue it. A calf's distress call will get the attention of not only the mother but also the herd. Buffalo will engage in mobbing behavior
Mobbing behavior
Mobbing in animals is an antipredator behavior which occurs when individuals of a certain species mob a predator by cooperatively attacking or harassing it, usually to protect their offspring. A simple definition of mobbing is an assemblage of individuals around a potentially dangerous predator...

 when fighting off predators. They have been recorded treeing lions for two hours, after the lions have killed a member of their group. Lion cubs can get trampled and killed. In one videotaped instance, known as the Battle at Kruger
Battle at Kruger
Battle at Kruger is an eight-minute amateur wildlife video that depicts an unfolding confrontation between a herd of Cape buffalo, a small pride of lions, and one or two crocodiles. The video was shot in September 2004 at the Transport Dam watering hole in Kruger National Park, South Africa,...

, a calf survived an attack by both lions and a crocodile after intervention of the herd.


African buffalo make various vocalizations. Many calls are similar to those of domestic cattle but are generally of a lower pitch. Buffalo emit low-pitched 2–4 seconds calls repeated at 3-6 second intervals to signal the herd to move. To signal to the herd to change direction, leaders will emit "gritty", "creaking gate" sounds. Extended maaa calls are made by one to a few individuals up to 20 times a minute before and during movements to drinking places. When being aggressive, buffalo make explosive grunts that may be extended into a sequence or become a rumbling growl. Cows emit croaking calls when looking for their calves. Calves will make a similar call of a higher pitch when in distress. When threatened by predators, buffalo make drawn about waaaa calls. Dominant individuals make calls to announce their presence and location. A more intense version of the same call is emitted as a warning to an encroaching inferior. When grazing, buffalo will make various sounds such as brief bellows, grunts, honks and croaks.


Buffalo mate and give birth strictly during the rainy seasons. Birth peak takes place early in the season while mating peaks later. A bull will closely guard a cow that comes into heat, while keeping other bulls at bay. This is difficult as cows are quite evasive and attract many males to the scene. By the time a cow is in full estrous only the most dominant bull in the herd/subherd is there.

Cows first calve at five years of age, after a gestation
Gestation is the carrying of an embryo or fetus inside a female viviparous animal. Mammals during pregnancy can have one or more gestations at the same time ....

 period of 11.5 months. Newly born calves remain hidden in vegetation for the first few weeks while being nursed occasionally by the mother before joining the main herd. Calves are held in the centre of the herd for safety.
The maternal bond between mother and calf lasts longer than in most bovids. However when a new calf is born the bonding ends and the mother will keep her previous offspring out of the way with horn jabs. Nevertheless the yearling will still tag along for another year or so. Males leave their mothers when they are two years old and join the bachelor groups.


The current status of African Cape buffalo is dependent on the existence of the animal's value to both trophy hunters and tourists, paving the way for conservation efforts through anti-poaching patrols, village crop damage payouts, and CAMPFIRE payback programs to local areas.
The buffalo is listed as Least Concern
Least Concern
Least Concern is an IUCN category assigned to extant taxon or lower taxa which have been evaluated but do not qualify for any other category. As such they do not qualify as threatened, Near Threatened, or Conservation Dependent...

 as the species remains widespread, with a global population estimated at nearly 900,000 animals, of which more than three-quarters are in protected areas. While some populations (subspecies) are decreasing, others will remain unchanged in the long term if large, healthy populations continue to persist in a substantial number of national parks, equivalent reserves and hunting zones in southern and eastern Africa.

In the past, numbers of African Buffalo suffered their most severe collapse during the great rinderpest
Rinderpest was an infectious viral disease of cattle, domestic buffalo, and some other species of even-toed ungulates, including buffaloes, large antelopes and deer, giraffes, wildebeests and warthogs. After a global eradication campaign, the last confirmed case of rinderpest was diagnosed in 2001...

 epidemic of the 1890s, which, coupled with pleuro-pneumonia, caused mortalities as high as 95% among livestock and wild ungulates.

Being a member of the Big Five Game
Big Five game
The phrase Big Five game was coined by white hunters and refers to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot. The term is still used in most tourist and wildlife guides that discuss African wildlife safaris. The collection consists of the lion, African elephant, cape buffalo,...

 family, a term originally used to describe the 5 most dangerous animals to hunt, the Cape Buffalo is a sought after trophy with some hunters paying over $10,000 for the opportunity to hunt one. The larger bulls are targeted for their trophy value although in some areas buffalo are still hunted for meat.


Known as one of the "big five
Big Five game
The phrase Big Five game was coined by white hunters and refers to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot. The term is still used in most tourist and wildlife guides that discuss African wildlife safaris. The collection consists of the lion, African elephant, cape buffalo,...

", "Black Death" or "widowmaker" in Africa, the African buffalo is widely regarded as a very dangerous animal, as it gores and kills over 200 people every year. Buffalo are sometimes reported to kill more
people in Africa than any other animal, although the same claim is also made of hippos
The hippopotamus , or hippo, from the ancient Greek for "river horse" , is a large, mostly herbivorous mammal in sub-Saharan Africa, and one of only two extant species in the family Hippopotamidae After the elephant and rhinoceros, the hippopotamus is the third largest land mammal and the heaviest...

 and crocodile
A crocodile is any species belonging to the family Crocodylidae . The term can also be used more loosely to include all extant members of the order Crocodilia: i.e...

s. Buffalo are notorious among big game hunters as very dangerous animals, with wounded animals reported to ambush and attack pursuers.

See also

  • Gaur
    The gaur , also called Indian bison, is a large bovine native to South Asia and Southeast Asia. The species is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List since 1986 as the population decline in parts of the species' range is likely to be well over 70% over the last three generations...

  • Anoa
    Anoa, also known as Dwarf Buffalo and Sapiutan, are a subgenus of Bubalus comprising two species native to Indonesia: the Mountain Anoa and the Lowland Anoa . Both live in undisturbed rainforest, and are essentially miniature water buffalo...

  • Wild Asian water buffalo
    Wild Asian Water Buffalo
    The wild water buffalo also called Asian buffalo and Asiatic buffalo is a large bovine native to Southeast Asia...

  • Domestic Asian water buffalo
  • Zebu
    Zebu , sometimes known as humped cattle, indicus cattle, Cebu or Brahmin cattle are a type of domestic cattle originating in South Asia, particularly the Indian subcontinent. They are characterised by a fatty hump on their shoulders, drooping ears and a large dewlap...

    , the common type of cattle from India: Gaur may have contributed to some breeds.

External links

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