Big Ole Buffaloes
One of the “Big Five” that we see quite often on the cams is the African Buffalo, known by most of us as the Cape Buffalo. The buffalo, once a treasured trophy of hunters, have earned their reputation of unpredictable and dangerous. An injured or cornered buffalo can quickly turn violent and have been known to ambush men, resulting in accusations of deliberate savagery. However if left alone, they lumber around very placidly. While there is only one species of buffalo in Africa, there are two subspecies, the large savanna buffalo and the much smaller forest buffalo. The forest subspecies can only be found in central and West Africa. Our familiar Cape Buffalo is the subspecies known as the savanna buffalo. These buffaloes are very large, with a cow like appearance. When a large herd rumbles by on the cams it is noticeable that their sizes can vary greatly, as does the size and shape of their horns, and sometimes even their color. The adults are usually black or dark gray, with a sometimes deceiving appearance of reddish brown or even tan. The varying lighter colors can be attributed to the recent mud wallowing as it dries on the fur, although their young are often reddish brown. Both the male and female buffaloes have an impressive horn structure with a thick downward curve that tapers and ends as it curves up. These horns, as with any other species serve several purposes. For the buffalo the obvious is the dominance fighting between males and can be a powerful weapon against predators. They are used at calmer moments as well, as they move around in the herd the horns serve as a useful tool to nudge others out of the way. While their sight and hearing are rather poor, their sense of smell is well developed. Seen as generally quiet, they do communicate amongst each other. A calf in danger will bellow and members of the herd will run at a steady gallop to defend the little one. The females have their first calf when they are 4-5 yrs of age, delivering a calf every two years. While young can be born throughout the year, most are born during the rainy season, ensuring there will be adequate grass for the pregnant or nursing mothers. Buffalo females and their young have a very strong bond, with the young suckling as long as a year, keeping them completely dependent on their mothers. As they mature, the females usually stay with the herd, where as the males leave when they are about 4 yrs old. A bachelor group of males usually contains the 4-7 yr olds along with the 12 yrs and older crowd. The older buffaloes often prefer to be on their own. While the full weight of the males occurs around 10 yrs of age, the years following see a decline in both weight and condition, attributed to the wearing down of the teeth. As with other ungulates, grass forms the greatest part of the buffaloes diet. They eat more at night than during the day as their ability to regulate their body temperature is rather poor. The buffalo is one of the most abundant in Africa, but is very dependent on water, ensuring we will see many more as they pass by in front of the cams. This past winter we saw several herds come by to drink and wallow, leaving the waterhole in quite a mess.