Cape buffalo

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Cape buffalo
Cape buffalo

Cape buffalo

without rank: Forehead weapon bearer (Pecora)
Family : Horned Bearers (Bovidae)
Subfamily : Bovinae
Tribe : Cattle (bovini)
Genre : Syncerus
Type : Cape buffalo
Scientific name
Syncerus caffer
( Sparrman , 1779)

The Cape buffalo ( Syncerus caffer ), and Black Buffalo , African Buffalo or steppe buffalo called, is a very great representative of the family Bovidae , which Eastern and Southern in large parts of Africa occurs. There he inhabits open savannah landscapes and wooded river areas of the lowlands and highlands. Characteristic is the robust build and the large, downwardly curved horns that sit on large horn bases on the forehead. The Cape Buffalo social system is complex and includes herds of related cows with young and occasionally bulls, bachelor groups of males and single males. Above all, the respective herds show a dynamic behavior through permanent splitting and reunification. They move around in spatially limited action areas in an annual rhythm that is dictated by the weather and the food supply. The bulls accompanying or flanking them are regularly involved in dominance fights for the mating privilege, which are carried out with head or body rams. Cows usually give birth to a single young animal, which is suckled for around one to one and a half years. The female offspring usually remain in the herd, the male leaves them later. The diet mainly consists of hard grasses, but the proportion of softer plants can also increase significantly during dry periods. As a result, the animals have different nutritional strategies depending on the season and region. In the transition from the 19th to the 20th century, stocks in large parts of the distribution area collapsed as a result of a rinderpest epidemic. Today the Cape Buffalo is largely restricted to protected areas, but is considered common and not threatened. The species was described in 1779.



Cape buffalo head with large horns

The Cape Buffalo is the largest representative of the African cattle (Bovini) and reaches the proportions of its Asian, wild relatives. It has a head-torso length of 240 to 340 cm (plus a 50 to 110 cm long tail), a shoulder height of 148 to 175 cm and a weight of 350 to 900 kg. A sexual dimorphism is clearly pronounced, the bulls are larger and can be up to twice as heavy as the females. Studies of animals from Tanzania showed a weight for males from 661 to 849 kg, for females from 426 to 468 kg. Corresponding data for animals from Zambia are 472 to 723 kg and 386 to 536 kg, respectively. Overall, the Cape Buffalo is very sturdy and has relatively short limbs and a hump above the shoulders. The fur is jet black in both sexes, in old bulls it can thin out so that spots of dark skin on the head become visible. The tail ends in a conspicuous, also dark tassel. The massive head is equipped with a wide mouth, the nose is wet and naked. The large, drooping ears are fringed. Particularly noticeable are the large, pointed horns that run across the front of the head and bend downwards to the sides. They span 73 to 134 cm apart, the length of the individual horns measured over the curvature is almost identical to the span with 66 to 116 cm. The longest horn ever measured reached 163 cm and comes from a bull from Lake Manyara National Park in Tanzania. The horns are not fluted and, especially in males, are particularly massive, their bases stretch well over the forehead and meet on the midline of the skull. But there is no correspondence with the age of the animals and the size of the horn base. In contrast to female animals with their more delicate horns, males do not grow hair between the roots of the horns. The hooves have a large, rounded shape and there are dewclaws . The rear foot length is 56 to 61 cm. Certain glands that are used to deposit secretions are not developed. Cows have a small, rounded udder with two pairs of teats .

Skull and dentition features

Cape buffalo skull

The skull becomes 44.8 to 57.5 cm long and at the mastoid process of the temporal bone 24.1 to 31.6 cm wide. In general, it is short and wide and clearly rounded in profile. A pre-eye pit (Fossa praeorbitalis) and a sieve pit (Fossa ethmoidalis) are not formed. The dentition has the tooth formula characteristic of those who wear horns . Typical for ruminants, a horn plate is formed in the upper dentition instead of the incisors . The molars are very high crowned ( hypsodontal ) with a crown height of 5 cm in young adult animals, sharp enamel ridges are formed on the chewing surface . The eruption pattern of the teeth can be used to determine the age, the canine of the lower jaw is the last erupting tooth of the permanent dentition. It appears between four and a half to five and a half years.

distribution and habitat

Distribution area (light green) of the Cape buffalo compared to other species of the genus Syncerus

The Cape Buffalo is found in large parts of eastern and southern Africa . The distribution area extends from southern Ethiopia and Somalia in the northeast to the south via Kenya , Tanzania , Uganda and the extreme east and southeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in East Africa as well as via Zambia , Zimbabwe , Mozambique to South Africa , the northeast of Namibia and south of Botswana . The species inhabits a variety of different landscape types that include well-humid savannas , swamps, and flood plains. In addition, it also occurs in drier savannas and alluvial forests of dry habitats , provided that water is available. The animals can also be found in montane forest areas up to an altitude of 3000 m, extremely high evidence is at 4700 m on Mount Kenya . In particularly beneficial areas, such as in Lake Manyara National Park in Tanzania, the Cape buffalo can occur in very high numbers with around 20 individuals per square kilometer, in the Ngorongoro Crater the population density is accordingly around 11, in the Serengeti around 8 individuals per one comparably large area. In arid landscapes such as the Lowveld in South Africa, it goes back to up to 2 individuals per square kilometer.

Way of life

Territorial behavior

A herd of Cape Buffalo in the Kruger National Park

The Cape Buffalo has a complex social system. Typical is the association of related females and their young, which is referred to as a herd and in which bulls of different ages can stay. The size of the herd varies from a few dozen to several thousand individuals. The extremely large groups, however, probably represent herd associations that only exist temporarily and have no internal hierarchy. Their formations depend on the season and the availability of food and water. However, there is a variation in herd size over the year resulting in larger groups in the wet and smaller groups in the dry season, with the groups dividing and reuniting regularly. Such separations and re-formation are not only linked to external conditions, but also partly to the size of the herd and their social structure, as studies at Lake Manyara have shown. The hierarchical structure of a herd consists of dominant females leading the herd, followed by cows with very young calves and young animals in the middle. Animals of subordinate status form the end of the herd; the position of an animal in the herd thus provides information about its social position. It also determines the quality of the food and the general physical condition of the cow. The birth of a calf often leads to a higher social position within the herd. It is usually assumed that the individual herds (without temporary splitting) represent stable associations and that adult cows rarely leave their traditional group; some herds have been documented over a period of up to five decades. Observations from the Chobe National Park in Botswana show, however, that females occasionally leave their herd. A cow covered up to 133 km during such a herd change. A return to the old herd was not found, possibly the changing animals are those with a rather low status. Bulls live individually or form bachelor groups of 5 to 10 individuals that exist for a limited time. Within these bachelor groups there are constant battles for dominance over the mating privilege. In the short term, bulls can also switch from bachelor groups to herds and vice versa, but within the herd they are not integrated into the local social structure. It is noteworthy that when bulls stay in herds for long periods of time they regularly lose weight because they eat less on average. The high energetic costs that have to be paid for reproduction are probably responsible for why bulls leave the herd again after a shorter period of time.

A herd of Cape Buffalo in Tanzania

The herds of the Cape buffalo are not migratory and therefore do not cover great distances. You stay in more or less limited action areas from 100 to over 1000 km². Within these action spaces they follow a regular migration pattern over the year, which is determined by the cycle of precipitation and plant growth. These hikes following a certain rhythm on fixed paths and trails lead to the soil being worked up and new plant growth being stimulated, which enables repeated grazing in the same region. Typical migratory movements lead to water and pasture areas, they are more extensive every day, the more accessible water is scattered. In the Kruger National Park in South Africa, distances averaging 3.35 km a day are covered, compared to up to 30 km in the East African Serengeti . Individual bulls and bachelor groups have much smaller territories of 3 to 4 km² in size. They flank the migration of the herd. The daily routine follows similar patterns as with numerous other ruminants and is characterized by food intake and the resulting rest and ruminating. Overall, the duration of each activity depends on the quality and quantity of the local and seasonal food supply. The main activities take place during the day, but also at night in areas with high hunting pressure. At Lake Manyara, the animals eat between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., depending on the intensity, the duration can be between 1.5 and 4.5 hours, which corresponds to about 22 to 56% of the daily activity (37% on average). The food intake separates two periods of rest, which are mostly spent ruminating, often with the body lying in the water, and can last for several hours. They take up between 11 and 49% of the daily available time budget (31% on average). Thus, the Cape buffalo at Lake Manyara spends around two thirds of its time each year eating and digesting. The duration of digestion is the opposite of the duration of food intake, since an animal can eat more in a shorter time due to the abundant supply of high-quality food in the rainy season, but needs a longer time to ruminate. In the dry season with a poorer quality food supply, it eats longer, but digests less. In the Chebera Churchura National Park in Ethiopia, the animals graze in the early morning and evening hours and use up to half of their daily time budget for this, and a good third of them take the rest. The Cape buffalo spends a similar length of time eating in the Kruger National Park, but this sometimes also takes place at night.

A cape buffalo after a mud bath

For comfort behavior include mud baths to any insect bites and avoid periods of rest at elevated landmarks. The latter is probably used to catch cool breezes, as the Cape buffalo is generally poorly adapted to heat. In general, the Cape buffalo is rather quiet. Well-known vocalizations are grunting and panting, the latter being emitted when an animal is alarmed or starts to run. The Cape buffalo utters a bark in the event of severe injuries, for example by a predator , which often encourages other conspecifics to come for support. Severely injured animals seek protection from other Cape buffalo. There is no warning call in the event of danger, but a herd can become very quiet, especially at night, so that it is very difficult to track down. A ritualized behavior pattern exists between dominant and submissive animals. The former hold the head and shoulders up while the nose points down so that the horns are optimally presented. In the latter, the head lies low and parallel to the ground, sometimes the inferior animal also leads the head between the hind legs of the dominant and emits a bark. The sense of sight is quite well developed, as is the hearing . Due to the lack of glands, secretions only play a subordinate role in intra-species communication.


Drinking Cape Buffalo

As a largely open land species, the main food of the Cape buffalo consists of grasses. He prefers long-stemmed grasses over broad-leaved ones and also tolerates those with a high fiber content. However, he avoids those with low nutrient content or plants that contain essential oils. The most commonly consumed plants include dog tooth grasses , fingergrass and bluegrass, as well as representatives of the genera Sporobolus and Heteropogon . When there is a high availability of grasses - for example during the rainy season - an animal eats large quantities and is not very particular, when it is less available or of poor quality, it is more selective. In the Serengeti the Cape buffalo prefers blades of grass in the rainy season, in the dry season, when the grasses disappear, it retreats to river plains, where the food supply is more extensive. In arid landscapes such as the Succulent Karoo of southern Africa, where grasses are far less common, softer plant material makes up a greater proportion of the amount eaten. Here, studies have shown that during the dry periods of the year the proportion of soft plants can reach up to 33%, while in the more humid periods it drops to around 28%. The animals then also eat acacia plants , star bushes , diamond plants or the cape leadwort . In the Nama-Karoo, which is richer in grass, however, such differences could not be found, as grasses make up 95% of the food consumed here. However, a change in preferred plants within the different seasons could be identified here. Sporobolus grasses dominated the wet parts of the year, while Themada grasses dominated the dry ones. An animal has to eat around 2.2% of its body mass every day, which corresponds to around 14 to 15 kg. Because the Cape Buffalo is dependent on water, they rarely move further than 8 to 20 km from open watering holes. Salt licks, including those from sweating conspecifics, or the eating of ferrous substrates, especially at high altitudes such as Mount Kenya, are also important.


Two fighting Cape buffalo

In principle, the mating of the Cape buffalo can take place all year round. In regions with distinct seasons and thus a qualitatively and quantitatively fluctuating food supply, however, it is seasonally limited. In the Serengeti, pairings are observed from November and increasingly until July, in the South African province of Limpopo they are dependent on rainfall and the respective food supply. The latter suggests that the physical condition of the female animals is crucial for mating and birth. Cows give birth to their first calf at 4 to 5 years of age, bulls are fully sexually mature at 8 to 9 years of age. The males are integrated into a hierarchical system that regulates reproduction. For this purpose, the males regularly conduct mating and dominance competitions, which include head and body rams; the former often takes place between dominant and inferior, the latter between animals of equal rank. They begin with an animal standing still with its head raised and its nose pointing downwards, comparable to dominance behavior. Often the head is also moved up and down. The whole procedure can start at a distance of 30 m from each other and is sometimes associated with a deep grumble. Then it comes to an attack, with the animal lowering its head so far that when it meets, the energy is directed to the reinforced base of the horns. The winner is determined by strength and speed, the loser usually looks for the distance in the end, but is sometimes pursued by the winner up to 100 m.

Adult and young Cape Buffalo

Bulls constantly test the cows' willingness to receive by sniffing the genital organs or urine and thereby showing a pleading . The sex cycle of the cows lasts about 18 to 22 days, the oestrus itself one day. Bulls willing to mate put their chin on the body of the cow and thus signal readiness. The cow in turn responds by standing still and moving its tail. The copulation is rather short and is repeated several times within 30 minutes. The gestation period of the cows lasts up to 11.5 months (average 340 days), the birth interval is 15 to 24 months. Usually only one calf is born that weighs 39 to 41 kg; Twin births are very rare. Birth weight varies slightly with the season. The fur of the young is black or dark gray and sometimes changes color as it grows. The calf needs several hours after birth to stand securely and moves slowly and sedately in the following weeks. Mother and young animal are somewhat separate from the herd after birth, during which time the mother animal pays careful attention to the young. Overall, the herd is very attentive to young animals, so that they are rarely captured by predators. The young sucks irregularly, initially for up to 10 minutes. After around four weeks, it will be breastfed for around 5 minutes. During the growth phase, young animals hardly play or frolic, but young adult bulls do sparring matches. Breastfeeding ends differently depending on the density of the population . At Lake Manyara with a high number of individuals, young animals are weaned after a year and a half, in the less densely populated Serengeti after ten months, when the mother is pregnant with new offspring in the seventh month. Male animals leave the maternal herd, females stay there. The average life expectancy in the wild is 18 to 20 years; individual animals in human captivity have lived to be over 30 years old.

Predators and enemy behavior

The lion as the most important predator of the Cape buffalo
A cape buffalo with maggot picks on its back

The lion is the most important predator . Thanks to its good eyesight, the Cape Buffalo can see lions from a distance of up to 1.5 km. Individual animals defend themselves against lion attacks by positioning themselves with their backs against an obstacle or by hiding in the bushes so that the predators cannot reach the vulnerable hind legs. Escape is also possible, as individual animals can reach speeds of up to 55 km / h over short distances. Groups often line up in a circle and present a phalanx of horns. The Cape buffalo may also attack lions directly, drive them away, whirl them through the air with their horns or sometimes trample them to death. The big cats can only kill an adult buffalo with a throat bite because they do not have the strength to break the neck. In addition, the skin of the Cape buffalo with a thickness of 2 to 3 cm has a protective effect. The lion's influence on local Cape Buffalo populations varies. In the Serengeti it causes only 25% of the deaths of the Cape buffalo, in Lake Manyara it is up to 85%. As a rule, older, individually migrating bulls fall victim to the predator, rarely bulls living in bachelor groups or cows and young animals in herds. It is noteworthy in this context that in areas with a larger lion population, larger herds of the Cape buffalo can also be observed. Mostly young animals are also torn by spotted hyenas and leopards . The former occasionally bring down older or weakened animals. Survivors of an attack often have scars on their bodies. Research in Aberdare National Park in Kenya showed that more than a quarter of male individuals had healed wounds from a hyena attack.


The most important diseases that affect the Cape buffalo include rinderpest , pulmonary disease and tuberculosis , which are mainly transmitted from domestic cattle to wild animals. Anthrax and foot-and-mouth disease also play a subordinate role. In addition, the animals are known as a reservoir for coastal fever . The Cape buffalo is immune to some originally tropical or African diseases such as sleeping sickness , which is transmitted by the tsetse fly . Numerous ticks have been found on external parasites , such as the genera Amblyomma , Rhipicephalus , Hyalomma and Boophilus . Some of these ectoparasites are also considered to be carriers of the diseases already mentioned. As a rule, older bulls suffer more from the infestation than younger animals. For relief, birds like the maggot chopper , which removes the external parasites, are tolerated.


Internal systematics of cattle (Bovini) according to Zurano et al. 2019

 Pseudoryx nghetinhensis (Vietnamese forest cattle)


 Syncerus caffer (Cape buffalo)


 Bubalus arnee (water buffalo)


 Bubalus mindorensis (Tamarau)


 Bubalus quarlesi (Mountain Anoa)


 Bubalus depressicornis (Lowland Anoa)


 Bos ( bison ) bonasus (wisent)


 Bos primigenius (aurochs)


 Bos mutus (yak)


 Bos ( bison ) bison (American bison)


 Bos sauveli (Kouprey)


 Bos javanicus (Banteng)


 Bos gaurus (Gaur)

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The Kaffernbüffel is a kind of the genus syncerus and the family of the Bovidae (Bovidae). Within the hornbeam Syncerus belongs to the subfamily of the Bovinae and to the tribe of the Bovini . The genus thus represents the African representatives of the cattle. The closest relatives are the Asian buffalo ( Bubalus ), with which Syncerus forms a unit (Bubalina). According to molecular genetic studies, the two genera separated in the Upper Miocene around 7.3 to 5.1 million years ago.

Until the beginning of the 21st century, the genus Syncerus was regarded as monotypical and contained only the Cape buffalo as a species. All other current representatives of the African buffalo were considered subspecies of the Cape buffalo, the exact number of which was however controversial, in numerous more modern systematics mostly between two and five swayed. A revision of the horned buffalo in 2011, carried out by Colin Peter Groves and Peter Grubb , recognized a total of four existing subspecies as independent species, which, in addition to the Cape buffalo, the red buffalo ( Syncerus nanus ), the Sudan buffalo ( Syncerus brachyceros ) and the Virunga -Buffalo ( Syncerus matthewsi ) affect. The division of the genus Syncerus into four species is not fully recognized. On the basis of morphometric and external characteristics, the Cape buffalo and the red buffalo can be easily separated from each other.They represent two different eco-morphotypes: the Cape buffalo as a large, powerful species with massive horns, a savannah type, the red buffalo as a more delicate representative with smaller horns, a forest type. In contrast, the other members of Syncerus , who inhabit the open landscapes of the Sahel and the mountainous regions of East Africa, are rather intermediary between the two in their appearance. Molecular genetic studies show a rather low genetic diversity compared to the high morphological variation range of Syncerus , but reveal two clearly separated clades, on the one hand the populations of West and Central Africa (red and Sudan buffalo), on the other hand those of East and South Africa concern (Cape buffalo). The separation of the two lines occurred in the Middle Pleistocene around 450,000 to 145,000 years ago. It is possible that the Cape buffalo, coming from eastern Africa, colonized large areas of the southern continental part during the Pleistocene as a result of climatic fluctuations and the associated expansion of the savannahs.

The first scientific description goes back to Anders Sparrman , who carried it out in 1779. Sparrmann based his description on his own observations made during his trip to southern Africa. He gave the Cape Buffalo the designation Bos caffer , as the type region he designated Seacov Rivier och Akter Brunties hoogte i Afrika (" Manatee River and Akter Brunties Hill in Africa"), what is now the Sunday River at Algoa Bay in Uitenhage in the South African Corresponds to Eastern Cape Province . In the eleventh volume of his work Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière, avec la description du Cabinet du Roy , Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon had already presented and illustrated a pair of horns from a Cape buffalo from the Cape of Good Hope in 1763 . This was by Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille brought back from a trip to Africa and handed over to the royal collection in Paris. Buffon placed the horn pair near the aurochs ( Bos primigenius ).

Hazards and protective measures

The population of the cape buffalo (and other ungulates) had been greatly reduced at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. A main cause was a cow plague epidemic around 1890, the disease had spread across the continent from the beginning of the 19th century as European immigrants and their domestic animals increasingly settled southern Africa. Coupled with pulmonary disease , this resulted in a mortality rate within the individual populations of around 95%. Rinderpest and anthrax were also responsible for the decline in local populations in the course of the 20th century . In addition, there is high hunting pressure, as the Cape buffalo is a food resource in many countries. Meat is not only used for self-sufficiency in the rural population, but is also carried out on an industrial scale. In addition, the Cape buffalo is part of the Big Five and has a reputation for being one of the most dangerous animals in the African savannah, which makes trophy hunting so important. Last but not least, the destruction of the habitat has a major impact on the individual stocks, especially in the peripheral areas of protected areas, where there is competition with livestock. Today, the populations and herds of the Cape buffalo are largely restricted to protected areas. Since the species is currently widespread, it is classified by the IUCN as " Least Concern ". Their total population is estimated at around 670,000 individuals. The most important protected areas where the Cape Buffalo occurs are the Serengeti and Lake Manyara National Park in Tanzania, Chobe National Park in Botswana and Hluhluwe-iMfolozi National Park and Kruger National Park in South Africa.


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Individual evidence

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  29. Anders Sparrman: Bos Caffer, et nytt Species af Buffel, från Caput Bonæ Spei. Kungliga Svenska vetenskapsfakademiens handlingar 40, 1779, pp. 79–84 ( [1] )
  30. Anders Sparrman: Resa till Goda Hopps-Udden södra pol-kretsen och omkring jordklotet samt till Hottentott-och Caffer-landen, åren 1772 - 1776. Stockholm, 1783, pp. 1-766 ( [2] ), German-language edition: Anders Sparrman: Journey to the promontory of good hope, the southern polar countries and around the world, but mainly in the countries of the Hottentots and the Kaffirs in the years 1772 to 1776. (German translation Christian Heinrich Groskurd), Berlin, 1784, p. 1 -626 ( [3] )
  31. Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon: Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière, avec la description du Cabinet du Roy. Tome Onzième. Paris, 1763, pp. 1–450 (pp. 416–417) ( [4] )
  32. ^ IUCN SSC Antelope Specialist Group: Syncerus caffer. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008. e.T21251A9260904 ( [5] ); last accessed on January 3, 2016

Web links

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