Vast herds of formidable Cape buffalo enjoy sanctuary in the Kruger National Park.
The African buffalo is a large species of wild cattle found throughout Africa. Both male and female buffaloes have horns, with the biggest difference between the sexes being that the horns of males create a thick, helmet-like structure where they originate in the middle of their heads at the top, while the horns of females are much thinner. Their average size is around 600kg (1300lb), making them one of Africa's largest herbivores and certainly amongst the most dangerous due to their bad tempers. Their coats are a dark brown or black color, with ox-peckers regularly found sitting on them, eating off ticks and other insects that pester the skin. They are a bit smaller than their continental cousins - the North American bison - but with bigger horns.
Cape buffalo can be found in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, from Kenya and Tanzania down to Zambia and parts of Malawi, to northern South Africa, and finally right down to the South Coast of South Africa in the area to which it owes its name - the Cape. These big herbivores are one of the easier sightings to come across when looking for the Big Five, thanks to their still quite widespread distribution across the continent. The Kruger National Park is one of the best places to find these aggressive bovine, where there are a great number of them roaming freely.
The Cape buffalo is definitely not going anywhere anytime soon, with great populations and mega-herds still grazing the savannas of Africa, even though one of their natural predators and enemies is the infamous lion. Their conservation status is nothing to worry about currently. Overall, this species has adapted well to the ever-changing 21st century that we live in today, with more land in Africa being allocated for human use, and more grasslands being devoured by domestic cattle, rather than the ‘wild cattle’ of Africa we call buffalo.
Buffaloes are mostly found in big open areas of grass and small shrubs which they can snack on for hours at a time, being the prolific grazers that they are. In the Kruger National Park, they can be found just about anywhere at any time, but are more frequently seen and easier to spot grazing in the open grasslands near the rest camps of Satara and Orpen, where there are less trees shielding their presence. Savanna areas with more trees and wild bushes able to support a herd may also serve as a regular habitat to call home.
Buffaloes, like most other grazing herbivores, organize themselves into herds. These herds include mothers with their young, as well as males of different ages, although they do not form part of one herd, but rather a few distinct smaller herds. There is usually a herd of all females and offspring, and all males, which generally interact quite often and seem like one single herd at first glance. The all-male herds leave and re-join females to mate during the wet season, and to find food and water during the dry season, along with other animal species that keep buffalo company for protection on the treacherous plains of Africa. Male groups are known as bachelor groups.
Buffaloes, because of their large size, require lots of food and water to survive. For this reason, they can usually be found near a water source or close to big grasslands where they graze. Young bulls or even calves can be seen play-fighting and chasing each other around here, while mothers keep an eye on them. After the whole herd is done eating and they decide to move to another location, a high-ranking female or male will usually send out a deeply pitched call indicating that they are going to move, and so their social endeavors continue. They also groom, lick and clean each other during the day; most often this occurs between mothers and their calves.
After the first real rains have fallen, in the beginning of the wet season, calves will usually be born, with lots of vegetation around them to make sure that they will be strong and big enough come the dry season. Males will usually start to battle it out for mates among themselves during the later stages of the rainy season, with the stronger males mating with the more desirable females in the end. The gestation period of buffaloes is about 11.5 months, just long enough for the calves to be born at the beginning of the next rainy season to start the cycle yet again. Female buffaloes start calving or having young at 5 years old, while males only start competing for mates some 3 or even 4 years later.
These big creatures might seem tough and strong, but even they have natural predators. Lions and crocodiles are the only ones big enough to make prey out of these wild cattle, who are amongst the biggest beasts available that are willing to take the chance. When attacked, these large creatures stick together, making it very hard for even a pride of lions to pick one off and deliver the final blow. Once a buffalo sends out a call of distress, the whole herd responds aggressively. They form a circle, with the calves in the middle, and fend off predators with their large horns, sometimes even killing them in the process, or at the very least injuring them.
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