The least known of Africa’s big five, buffalos provide an inspiring showcase of power. Rumbustious masses of black fur maraud across the landscape, horns curling impressively and shabby coats dripping with mud. You can’t help to be won over by their care-free attitude and ferocious stares.
The Forgotten Member of the Big Five
If you’re wondering why buffalos made the big five list above cheetahs or hippos, it’s because the term initially described the animals that would charge back when hunted, thus making them the ultimate five trophies. And buffalos can really charge. Even in a safari vehicle they can make you feel a little fearful, as they huff and hiss without breaking eye contact.
These are all Cape buffalo, untamed by man and far heavier and taller than the Asian water buffalo. Buffalo bulls can be very dangerous, especially when they form bachelor herds. When you’re close enough to listen to the sounds of their exhaled hiss and stamped feet, the guide will immediately back off. Buffalos must defend themselves against lions and they’re not the fastest of runners; they’re well aware of how dangerous their bulk makes them.
Encountering Buffalos on Walking and Horseback Safaris
See a male buffalo and you’ll want to be in the security of a safari vehicle. Sometimes these grazers cover a campsite or surround a lodge. You can’t just chase them off. The guards have to be patient, letting them graze without inciting their anger. On many occasions we’ve woke in the night to the sound of hooves and grazing just outside the tent. It’s exhilaration and enchanting in equal measure.
Buffalo are the most dangerous of the big five. But over half of them are very tranquil. The females are placid and a single male will rule over a large harem, with younger males forming sub herds nearby. These female-dominated herds can be safely encountered on a walking or horseback safari, an imposing impression of scale and size.
Buffalos Will be a Common Sight on Your Safari
Adults weight upwards of 500kgs and it’s this impressive bulk that has made them one of Africa’s most successful grazers. You’ll find them all across East and Southern Africa in just about any safari destination that has a healthy covering of grass. Mostly they prefer areas dotted with woodland, where there’s shade and places to hide. But buffalos are also fond of cooling off in swamps and rivers, so even on the open floodplains they’re never that far away.
Buffalos and elephants are the easiest of the big five to spot. We can’t think of many safari itineraries without them. And it’s a fully sensual experience. Listen to their bellowing grunts and fierce hissing, stand transfixed as they intimately stare back at you, then admire the sudden change in atmosphere when a buffalo herd decides to move. One of our favourite recurring safari sights is the battle between lion prides and buffalo herds, two powerful giants locked in deadly daily encounters. Talk to us about how to see this phenomenon in Tanzania’s Katavi National Park, or the northern concessions in Botswana’s Okavango Delta.
Your African Safari
Although buffalos might not be at the top of your list, we think you’ll quickly be won over by their attitude and character. These are animals that meet your eye and snort with a resonant huff. Spend a few days on safari and you’ll realise that these impressive mammals more than deserve to be amongst the most revered five.