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Africa’s Big 5 – Cape Buffalo

August 10, 2018  By: Gretchen

Africa’s famous ‘Big 5’ species are made up of lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and Cape buffalo, and the term came about during the colonial period to refer to the five animals that were considered the most difficult and dangerous to hunt. Now, seeing Africa’s ‘Big 5’ is one of the main goals for many photographic safari enthusiasts.

Often mistaken for water buffalo, which is a significantly different animal with a much milder temperament found in Asia, the Cape buffalo faces the fewest conservation challenges of Africa’s ‘Big 5’ animals.

Read on to learn a few interesting Cape buffalo facts…

  • Both males and females have horns, but the males horns grow larger and can measure nearly 4 feet across.

  • The largest males approach 2,000 pounds and stand up to 6 feet tall at the shoulder.

  • Cape buffalo are bovid herbivores, and are diurnal (active during the day).

  • Cape buffalo herds can number in the thousands when grazing is good, literally shaking the nearby ground if they move off with speed.

  • Old Cape buffalo bulls are typically solitary or associate with a small number of other older bulls and are known as ‘dagga boys.’

  • Cape buffalo are very protective of one another. When under attack, herds will often surround calves or weak members all facing outward in a circle, ready to fight any threat – including lions.

  • A Cape buffalo cow’s gestation period is approximately 340 days! Calves are born with their eyes open and are able to walk within minutes.

  • Cape buffalo have a top speed of 35 miles per hour!

A few favorite Cape buffalo haunts and sightings from AAC’s staff…

Kent – Sabi Sabi in South Africa is a great reserve to see Cape buffalo, as well as the rest of the Big 5. South Luangwa National Park and Kafue National Park in Zambia are also fantastic. Walking is an option in both parks – seeing a Cape buffalo on foot is quite a thrill!

Anisha – One of my most memorable safari experiences involves Cape buffalo. It was at Mala Mala in South Africa, which is one of the best places to see the Big 5. We were there near the end of October, so the reserve was very green because of recent rains. During an afternoon game drive, our guide, Ross (this was way back in 2012, but you never forget a great guide ), spotted a massive herd of Cape buffalo, and drove us right into the middle of it. There were literally hundreds of buffalo and we were completely surrounded by them. It started raining, and we sat there, in our open vehicle, with our ponchos on in the middle of a massive bright green clearing in what felt like a sea of buffalo, it was incredible and definitely something I’ll never forget!

Sara – Super remote Katavi National Park in Tanzania has massive herds of Cape buffalo and almost no tourists! It’s an incredible place to see all sorts of African wildlife, but watching the herds thunder across the savanna really leaves an impression!

DianaKenya’s Masai Mara (which is part of the overall Serengeti ecosystem) can be good for viewing Cape buffalo, as the grasses in the ecosystem are the species’ preferred food. Seeing them on the plains is sort of a classic image of an African safari.

BethUganda is known for primates, with opportunities to trek to see mountain gorillas and chimpanzees. But there are also great national parks that are home to Cape buffalo, lions, elephants, leopards, and other big game. Uganda is definitely underestimated as a safari destination!

SusanBotswana is well known for large Cape buffalo herds, along with buffalo hunting lions. I haven’t seen a hunt, but there’s a chance visitors could with some luck!

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