Guest Question: Is that a Water buffalo?

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It's an easy mistake to make. It's a buffalo and it's wallowing in the mud. However, the African buffalo has several very different characteristics from its domesticated Asian relative.

Untamed and Dangerous

The water buffalo has been serving the interests of mankind since about 5 000 years ago. It has ploughed paddies and pulled carts and is sometimes known as the tractor of the east.

The African buffalo is better described as the bulldozer of the bush. They are fast, powerful and aggressive.

An African buffalo, would never stoop to domestication.

Every attempt to tame its wild nature by crossing it with domestic cattle have failed. In fact, buffalo are only remotely related to the other bovines. The taxonomical similarity between African buffalo and water buffalo end at the subfamily Bovinae.

The buffalo that you see at Thornybush during your South African safari are of the subspecies, Cape buffalo. There are no wild water buffalo in Africa.

Differences in Appearance

Despite their domineering natures, Cape buffalo are smaller than water buffalo, weighing in at 900kg and standing about 1.5m at the shoulder. Water buffalo tip the scales at 1 200 kg and can be up to 1.9m tall.

Water buffalo are adapted for wading with wide splayed feet, while Cape buffalo, although water dependent are mostly terrestrial.

The horns of the male Cape buffalo are joined in the middle forming a solid bone shield which is known as a 'boss'. This is absent in the water buffalo and female Cape buffalo.


Both species live to be about 25 years old, although this is a rare luxury in the wild. They live in herds made up of younger males, females and calves. The older bulls are usually solitary, although they may team up for protection.

During your South African safari, you may come across these elderly gents indulging in their favourite pastime, wallowing in the mud. They are often fondly referred to as 'daga boys' (daga meaning 'mud') for this reason.

Survival of the Fiercest

Although the number of wild water buffaloes is in steady decline, they have few predators left apart from man and crocodiles, tigers being in short supply in Asia.

Cape buffaloes are the sworn enemy of the African lion and will defend themselves vigorously – and effectively – against attack. They are highly sociable and stand together when under attack.

One can safely assume that a wounded, enraged Cape buffalo is one of the more dangerous animals on earth.

Watching buffalo

While Cape buffalo should certainly be treated with respect when on safari, it is quite safe to watch these magnificent animals in the company of a trained game ranger. They are also a member of the famous Big 5, so form an important part of your must-see animals while on safari.


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Thursday, 23 May 2019