WHO KNEW? 7 BRILLIANT AFRICAN BUFFALO FACTS
The African buffalo is a member of “Big Five” group of African animals. But how much do you actually know about one of Africa’s largest and most common herbivores? I invite you to learn more about the African Buffalo in the latest edition of our animal facts blog series!
1) AFRICAN BUFFALO HORNS TELL MANY STORIES
In adult male African buffaloes, the base of their distinct, curving horns come so close together that the fuse. This creates a sort of shield on their heads known as a “boss”. Female buffalo horns do not have a “boss”, allowing researchers to distinguish between male and female buffalo more easily. In addition, the larger and thicker the horns in adult males, the more likely this male is to be higher ranked in the dominance hierarchy of the herd. In other words, you can tell a lot about an African buffalo from their horns! BBC
2) THERE ARE FIVE SUBSPECIES OF AFRICAN BUFFALO
The most common subspecies is the Cape Buffalo. It is also the largest: males can weigh up to 2,000 pounds. In contrast, the forest buffalo is the smallest of the five weighing in, on average, at only 600 pounds. Other varieties of African buffalo include the Sudanese buffalo, Nile buffalo and the Mountain buffalo.
3) AFRICAN BUFFALO HERDS ARE HIERARCHICAL
African buffalo have a complex social structure based on what scientists call a “dominance hierarchy”. This means that social cohesion in the herd is largely governed by dominant males and females. Dominance is established by the strength, size and age of a given buffalo combined with their interactions with other members of the herd. Both males and females travel together in the same herd, with a group of related females forming the core of the herd, while a group of subordinate males and older animals form sub-herds. Adding to this complexity, during the dry season males split off from the herd and form bachelor groups. These groups rejoin the main herd in the wet season to mate with females. For the African buffalo, there is strength in numbers.
, so the larger the herd the more able they are to protect themselves from predators.
4) AFRICAN BUFFALOES COMMUNICATE WITH DIFFERENT VOCALIZATIONS
Researchers have identified five main vocalizations that African buffalo use to communicate with one another. Low pitched sounds, spaced three to six seconds apart, direct the herd to move. More gritty variations on this low pitch sound signals the herd to change directions. Researchers have also observed African buffalo making long “maaa” calls as they are approaching watering holes; this sound may simply be an expression of pleasure, contentment or anticipation. To signal aggression, usually to fellow buffalo, the animals make explosive grunts and rumbling growls. Finally, when the herd feels threatened by predators (such as lions or crocodiles) they will let out long “waaa” calls.
5) CALVES ARE ONLY BORN DURING THE RAINY SEASON
Buffaloes are pregnant for about 11 and a half months before giving birth to new calves. This occurs only in the rainy season. Thanks to more abundance of vegetation and drinking water during the rainy season, the newborn calves have a higher chance of survival than if they were born during the dry season. Calves stay with their mothers for about one year before they become more independent within the herd. Males leave to join bachelor groups once they reach two years of age.
6) AFRICAN BUFFALO HERDS “VOTE”
Researchers have discovered a curious phenomenon in female African buffalo: they appear to “vote” to decide which direction to move the herd in. During times of rest, the females sit on the ground facing the direction they think the herd should move. After resting time finishes, the herd then moves in the direction that the majority were pointing towards. The most interesting aspect of this observed behaviour is that it is communal: the dominance hierarchy does not appear to influence the “votes” of individual buffalo.
7) AFRICAN BUFFALO ARE UNPREDICTABLE
Unlike some other buffalo species, the African buffalo has never been domesticated thanks in large part to its unpredictable behaviour. This combined with the animal’s large size, deadly set of horns and the relative lack of predators make it a wild animal that demands respect for its place in the animal kingdom. Of the major African mammals, only hippopotamuses and elephants are thought to be more of a danger to humans than buffalo.
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