I started my five part series of articles on The Big Five by chatting about the leopard. The second one on my list is the most dangerous of them all – the African Cape Buffalo. This animal has killed more hunters than any of the other Big Five. In herds, where there is group protection, buffalo are more docile, but it is the solitary break-away ones on the alert that humans need to be the most wary of. They have apt nicknames like “the widow-maker” and “black death” as they kill a couple of hundred people in Africa every year.
We had wonderful sightings of buffalo in the Kruger National Park in South Africa where they can be seen in large herds and on their own. They often have birds on them, pecking off ticks, as can be seen in two of our photos below. Another way they get rid of ticks is to wallow in mud. By coating themselves in this way they smother these pesky parasites. Nature is very clever in this way.
These strapping animals are very sturdy. They weigh in at between 500 – 900 kgs and can stand up to 1.7 m in height at the shoulders. Their crescent-shaped horns, which are fused at the base to form a boney saddle known as a “boss”, have a span of over a metre and are used with great effect as powerful weapons. Combined with the ability to charge at great speeds, the overall killing capability of the fearless buffalo is formidable.
If hunters don’t shoot them properly, buffalo will continue to charge even whilst being hit by a barrage of bullets. They are also very dangerous when injured and being tracked. Many a hunter has lost his life by under-estimating this four-legged opponent in the battle of the bushveld!
Males and females differ in both size and colour, with the males being larger, more black or dark brown and the females having slightly reddish-coloured coats, as do young buffalo. Males also have bigger horns than females. Females breed only after they reach the age of five years old and the gestation period is eleven months. In herds buffalo are very protective of one another, and especially of their young, and will rush to the rescue if one of their own has been downed by a predator like a lion or a crocodile.
Due to their large numbers, buffalo are fortunately not endangered, but they are highly prized by hunters who feel the need to decorate their walls with enormous buffalo heads. Personally, I like to see them alive on open plains or in mopane forests, and always feel incredibly sad when I am confronted by a mounted buffalo head on a wall. I always send them a silent apology for man’s arrogance. I wonder sometimes if there’s a planet out in the universe somewhere where animals have the upperhand and men’s heads are mounted on walls. That would be a turn around for the books.