Buffalo are herbivores and can be found grazing on tall coarse grasses and other vegetation. Due to their need to drink daily, they are usually located near a water source. Widely distributed throughout the plains, woodlands, grasslands and mountainous regions of Africa, buffalo are one of the Big Five game animals.
With a shoulder height of two metres and usually two to three metres in length, buffalo are very intimidating and males are typically larger than females. Covered in dark brown hair and weighing up to seven hundred kilograms, they are classed as a member of the cow family but are only distantly related. Buffalo have long horns, and in males these are fused together by a continuous band of bone across the forehead known as a boss. The horns of a male buffalo can be up to one metre in length, and these large creatures can be spotted sparring with their horns as part of a display of dominance or sometimes during play. These spars are rarely violent and are always very brief.
Cape Buffalo are often found in the savannah regions and woodlands of South and East Africa. Forest Buffalo, which are half the size of the Cape Buffalo, are found in the forested regions around the equator. The West African Savannah Buffalo, also know as the Sudanese Buffalo, are also relatively small. All buffalo prefer dense coverage to open ground, however they can be seen wandering across the plains.
Buffalo herds vary in size and are formed with great care. With the females and calves protected in the centre by the males on the outside, buffalo are collectively very protective of their group. During the dry season the males will split from the herd and form bachelor groups consisting of three or four individuals. During the wet season however, the males will mate with the females and then stick around to protect the young. Buffalo display a kind of mobbing behaviour when defending the herd against predators and can easily fight them off. With threatening behaviour and a charge with speeds up to thirty-five miles an hour, the buffalo herd is resilient and efficient.
The Big Five
The Big Five game animals that safari-goers are always desperate to catch a glimpse of include lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffalo. Originally termed the Big Five by hunters referring to the most dangerous animals in the wild, these creatures are never to be approached and must be viewed with caution. Buffalo have been the cause of many human deaths and will attack when threatened. Aside from the human threat provided by hunters, buffalo have few natural predators. Lions will attack large herds, however it can take a few adult lions to bring down a fully grown buffalo. Leopards, cheetahs and spotted hyenas will attack calves, but this is no easy feat when faced with the rest of the herd.
Cape Buffalo are naturally aggressive, preferring to chase away lions rather than let them stalk them. The protective layer of horn over their skulls mean that they can charge and hit their enemies with great force with little chance of injuring themselves. Anyone whose been in a vehicle rammed by one (and I could myself in that exclusive group!) will attest to the power they can get in a relatively short charge.
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