African Water Buffalo Strong But Not Invincible
The African Water Buffalo is the only member of the buffalo and cattle tribe known as Bovini that occur naturally in Africa. African Water Buffalo, also known as Cape Buffalo, are not endangered, but habitat loss and hunting pressures threaten them, as well as the introduction of non-native species, which can carry disease. These animals are one of the “Big Five” African animals, along with the elephant, rhinoceros, lion, and leopard.
How Nikela Helps
Although Nikela does not have a project that directly protects the African Water Buffalo many awareness campaigns address the plight of Africa’s endangered and threatened wildlife species as a whole. Actually Nikela is for preserving all wild things and their wild places.
Facts About the African Water Buffalo
The African Water Buffalo can reach 700-900 kilograms in weight, 340 cm in length, and stands 51-59 inches tall. The African buffalo are covered in short hair, which thins with age. Their body does not have patterns, although the color can range from dark red to black depending on the subspecies. Their body shape consists of a wide chest and barrel-shaped body, with a short, thick neck, massive head, and hefty legs. Both male and female African buffalo bear horns, although the size and shape varies. The horns of female buffalo are shorter and thinner, and lack the heavy shield known as a “boss” that comes across the forehead, which males of the variety posses. The average size of a Cape buffalo herd is 450, but they can range from 19 to 2,075!
To sustain their large size, the African Water Buffalo must eat a lot of grass, and is capable of taking big bites with its wide muzzle and incisor teeth. These buffalo use their tongue to bundle grass before biting it off.
Female African Water Buffalo have very strong bonds. Syncerus caffer will respond to distress calls, especially those made by calves. This protection seen in the species allows for the survival of weak individuals, such as blind or three-legged members, in the herd setting. Savannah buffalo are non-migratory and inhabit a home range generally exclusive to that group. Home ranges can vary in size from 126 to 1,075 square kilometers, supporting population densities between 0.17 and 3.77 individuals per square kilometer (Nowak, 1991).
The African buffalo is active throughout the day, and spends 18 hours per day foraging and moving. They can run up to 37 mph! As the buffalo graze and trample the ground, the growth of vegetation is favored. Herds tend to move through their home range by a circuitous route 50-100 km long. Mud wallows cool the animals and prevent insects from biting them, so it is no shock that these mud wallows are utilized and enjoyed by the buffalo. As it has massive horns, is gigantic in size, and tends to stick together with its herd, this species can be very dangerous. It has been called the most dangerous game animal in the world. Regardless, and perhaps because of their reputation, African buffalo have been heavily hunted for trophies and food, and all domestication attempts with this species are unsuccessful.
African Water Buffalo also exhibit symbiotic associations with birds, such as oxpeckers, which pick off and eat lice, ticks, fleas, and other parasites that the buffalo may be infested with. The birds get food and the buffalo get cleaned of parasites.
The African Water Buffalo undergo seasonal breeding. Cows have their first calves when they are about five years old, while bulls are mature at about eight years. Gestation is around 340 days— the longest gestation period in the bovine family. Females give birth to a single calf weighing 50-90 pounds (23-40 kg). Calves are up on their feet within 10 minutes after birth and can follow their mothers after several hours. The calves need several weeks to be able to keep up with the herd. Females remain with their clan but adolescent males leave the clan at about three years, forming a subgroup that stays with the larger herd. Old bulls past their prime leave the breeding herds and associate in bachelor groups of 4-5. Cape buffalo can live 15-25 years in the absence of disease (Denver Zoo).
Distribution and Habitat
The African Water Buffalo (Syncerus caffer), also known as the Cape buffalo, thrives on virtually all types of grassland habitat in sub-Saharan Africa. They are found in savannah and woodland mosaics, preferring areas with access to water, grass, and dense cover (for example, thickets, reeds, or forest). They seek glades were possible, but are capable of staying out in the open sun for extended periods of time. Most foraging occurs along watercourses of grassy glades. A much smaller subspecies, the forest (or red) buffalo, S. caffer nanus, is found in swampy jungle and rainforest (Nowak, 1991).
The map below depicts the distribution of the African Buffalo. They are found throughout most of Africa south of the Sahara, in the countries: Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, United Republic of Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe. They are regionally extinct in Gambia and Eritrea, and reintroduced into Swaziland (IUCN Antelope Specialist Group, 2008).
IUCN Antelope Specialist Group. 2008. Syncerus caffer. In IUCN. 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.1. Available online at the IUCN Redlist website.
Nowak, R. M. [editor]. 1991. Walker’s Mammals of the World (Fifth Edition). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Contributed by Nikela Volunteer Vanessa Nikolovska
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