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African Buffalo Information

Buffalo bull, syncerus caffer Quick Buffalo Information

Family: Bovidae (Antelope and Buffalo)
Scientific name: Syncerus caffer
Average shoulder height: 1.4 m
Weight: Males - 700 kg; Females - 550 kg
Gestation period: 11.5 months (340 days)
Life expectancy: 23 - 25 yrs

African buffalo showing the boss where the horns meet
Buffalo bull, showing the thick, heavy "boss"
where the horns meet on top of the head

The African buffalo is a huge, heavily built, cattle-like animal, with short sturdy limbs and a broad chest. Bulls are usually dark brown to black in colour, while the cows are a lighter shade.

Both sexes have large grey horns of around 100 cm long stretching across the forehead and curving upward to form the shape of a "W". The broad base where the horns meet is called the "boss" and is thicker and more prominent in males.

The buffalo's ears are large and hang down just below the horns. The tail is cow-like with a tip of long brown or black hair.

The African buffalo is a gregarious animal occurring in herds of up to several thousands. Buffalo herd, Ruaha National Park, Tanzania
Large herd of African buffalo standing in winter grass on edge of forest, Ruaha National Park, Tanzania

Bachelor groups may, however, break away from the main herd, and solitary bulls are often encountered. Adult bulls, within the mixed herd, form a dominance hierarchy.

Buffalo are often seen drinking in the early mornings or late afternoons, and they spend the heat of the day seeking out shade. Feeding mostly takes place at night.

The buffalo can reach speeds of around 56 km per hour and can therefore outrun a lion, however they are slow starters and this is why they are often easy prey for lions. They are nevertheless quick tempered and dangerous, deserving of their status as one of Africa's "Big Five" in the wildlife kingdom.

Buffalo are seasonal breeders with the majority of births taking place in the summer months. Buffalo calves, weighing about 40 kg after a gestation period of 340 days, are born within the herd and are able to keep up the herd within a few hours of birth. The calf is weaned after about seven months.

Buffalo are predominantly bulk grazers. They eat the high grass, leaving the shorter grass accessible for other animals. Leaves form about 5% of their diet, but this can increase dramatically when grass is scarce. A herd can move a distance of 7 to 17 km a day and graze for up to 10 hours. They prefer open areas and need water every day.

The buffalo uses many different sounds in different situations to communicate. Low-pitched bellows signal the herd to move on, while a prolonged call from a number of buffalo indicates that they are on their way to water.

While grazing, a series of sounds like short lowing, growling and rumbling can be heard, to keep the herd moving in the right direction.

For additional information on African buffalo, see our gallery of Buffalo Pictures.

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