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Cape Buffalo

Buffalo, Cape

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Description

A Cape buffalo’s coloring ranges from dark brown to black. Young buffalo have dense reddish hair that darkens with age. Cape buffalo also have prominent large, drooping, fringed ears. The size and shape of their horns reflects sex and age. Older males have large horns of up to 40 in (100 cm) that grow together at the base and form a “boss” in the middle. This boss is a shield that covers the entire forehead and is used in fighting. Cape buffalo will charge with their heads lowered and can place their head underneath a predator and buck upwards, resulting in that predator becoming airborne while being gored by the horn tips. However, Cape buffalo are extremely unlikely to attack predators or humans without being threatened or provoked first—their reputation as dangerous animals comes from their willingness to aggressively protect both themselves and other members of their herd when they perceive danger. Size varies between subspecies of the African buffalo; S. c. caffer, found in the eastern savannas, may be twice as large as S. c. nanus, which occurs in equatorial forests.

Cover photo: Adult male Cape buffalo by Lawrence William

Classification

Overview
The Cape buffalo is a bovid, which is a group of mammals with cloven hooves and multi-chambered stomachs to help digest their plant-based diet. Cape buffalo are in the Bovini tribe of bovids, which includes bison, yaks, water buffalo, and domestic cattle.
Class
Mammalia
Order
Cetartiodactyla
Family
Bovidae
Tribe
Bovini
Genus
Syncerus
Species
S. caffer

Key Facts

Conservation Status
Near Threatened
Lifespan
18 – 20 years in the wild; 26 – 30 years under human care
Height
4 – 5.5 ft (~100 – 170 cm)
Weight
700 – 2000 lb (~300 – 900 kg)

The IUCN Red List describes the Cape buffalo as Near Threatened. This means that as a whole, populations are not quite threatened with risk of extinction, but should be watched closely. This designation was recently changed—up until 2019 Cape buffalo were considered a species of Least Concern, but decreases in population sizes due to poaching for meat, habitat loss, and expansion of domestic livestock populations led to a reclassification. Current populations are estimated at around 400,000 individuals.

Social Life
Cape buffalo are highly sociable animals that travel in large, 50 – 500 animal, non-territorial herds. These herds are composed of related cows and their young with an age dependent dominance hierarchy. There is usually one dominant male associated with a group of females, with the ostracized males forming bachelor herds of 2 – 12 individuals. Older males tend to live solitary lives apart from the group. Cape buffalo are extremely powerful and dangerous if threatened and can run at speeds up to 35 mph (57 kph).

Habitat and Range
Cape buffalo are one of the most widespread African ungulates and live in a broad range of habitats in eastern and southern Africa. The savanna sub-species inhabit open grasslands, woodlands and forests. They maintain home ranges near permanent sources of water. The forest subspecies are found in rainforests of Central and West Africa.

Diet
Cape buffalo are herbivorous grazing animals that primarily eat tall, coarse grasses but will also browse on foliage and herbs. They spend 8 – 10 hours per day grazing and need to drink water at least once every day.

Predators
Primary predators for adults include lions and crocodiles while the young, elderly and sick are additionally vulnerable to attacks by spotted hyenas.

Reproduction
Sexual maturity: Male: 4.5 years, Female: 4 years
Mating Season:   Year-round
Birth Season:       Year-round
Gestation:             11.5 months
No. of Young:       1, rarely 2

Information

Description

A Cape buffalo’s coloring ranges from dark brown to black. Young buffalo have dense reddish hair that darkens with age. Cape buffalo also have prominent large, drooping, fringed ears. The size and shape of their horns reflects sex and age. Older males have large horns of up to 40 in (100 cm) that grow together at the base and form a “boss” in the middle. This boss is a shield that covers the entire forehead and is used in fighting. Cape buffalo will charge with their heads lowered and can place their head underneath a predator and buck upwards, resulting in that predator becoming airborne while being gored by the horn tips. However, Cape buffalo are extremely unlikely to attack predators or humans without being threatened or provoked first—their reputation as dangerous animals comes from their willingness to aggressively protect both themselves and other members of their herd when they perceive danger. Size varies between subspecies of the African buffalo; S. c. caffer, found in the eastern savannas, may be twice as large as S. c. nanus, which occurs in equatorial forests.

Cover photo: Adult male Cape buffalo by Lawrence William

Classification

Overview
The Cape buffalo is a bovid, which is a group of mammals with cloven hooves and multi-chambered stomachs to help digest their plant-based diet. Cape buffalo are in the Bovini tribe of bovids, which includes bison, yaks, water buffalo, and domestic cattle.
Class
Mammalia
Order
Cetartiodactyla
Family
Bovidae
Tribe
Bovini
Genus
Syncerus
Species
S. caffer

Key Facts

Conservation Status
Near Threatened
Lifespan
18 – 20 years in the wild; 26 – 30 years under human care
Height
4 – 5.5 ft (~100 – 170 cm)
Weight
700 – 2000 lb (~300 – 900 kg)

The IUCN Red List describes the Cape buffalo as Near Threatened. This means that as a whole, populations are not quite threatened with risk of extinction, but should be watched closely. This designation was recently changed—up until 2019 Cape buffalo were considered a species of Least Concern, but decreases in population sizes due to poaching for meat, habitat loss, and expansion of domestic livestock populations led to a reclassification. Current populations are estimated at around 400,000 individuals.

Social Life
Cape buffalo are highly sociable animals that travel in large, 50 – 500 animal, non-territorial herds. These herds are composed of related cows and their young with an age dependent dominance hierarchy. There is usually one dominant male associated with a group of females, with the ostracized males forming bachelor herds of 2 – 12 individuals. Older males tend to live solitary lives apart from the group. Cape buffalo are extremely powerful and dangerous if threatened and can run at speeds up to 35 mph (57 kph).

Habitat and Range
Cape buffalo are one of the most widespread African ungulates and live in a broad range of habitats in eastern and southern Africa. The savanna sub-species inhabit open grasslands, woodlands and forests. They maintain home ranges near permanent sources of water. The forest subspecies are found in rainforests of Central and West Africa.

Diet
Cape buffalo are herbivorous grazing animals that primarily eat tall, coarse grasses but will also browse on foliage and herbs. They spend 8 – 10 hours per day grazing and need to drink water at least once every day.

Predators
Primary predators for adults include lions and crocodiles while the young, elderly and sick are additionally vulnerable to attacks by spotted hyenas.

Reproduction
Sexual maturity: Male: 4.5 years, Female: 4 years
Mating Season:   Year-round
Birth Season:       Year-round
Gestation:             11.5 months
No. of Young:       1, rarely 2

cape buffalo

Young Cape buffalo by Mark Pressler

cape buffalo

Baby Cape buffalo by Mark Pressler