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Highly gregarious, but often solitary. This apparent anomaly sums up the African buffalo, a massive and charismatic bovid of myth and legend with a formidable reputation for strength, tenacity and determination.
This majestic bull, resplendent with huge sweeping horns and a solid central boss, epitomises the popular image of solitude and aggression, massive nostrils testing the air, backed up by a direct stare from far from friendly eyes. When integrated with a vast milling herd of hundreds of other buffalo images of aggression melt into apparent tranquility and domesticity, as the herd goes about its business of grazing and ruminating. Cow-like bellows are punctuated by higher pitched calls from calves temporarily separated from their mothers. The smell or sight of a lion will change this in a flash, and a collective form of behavior will often result in a whole pride of lion being driven away.
Like many other large mammals, buffalo are becoming more and more restricted to the larger national parks and game reserves. In addition to being a drawcard for tourists, buffalo have a very important role to play in utilising and trampling stands of old, tough grass, opening up stretches of almost moribund vegetation and making the resultant new growth available to other species. In fact, buffalo have one of the most efficient systems for digesting fibrous food, making them a valuable asset for any protected area.
Why and when do adult bulls leave the herds and forsake the females? This form of behaviour is not restricted to old bulls, as is popularly thought. Both old and young withdraw from the herds from time to time to form themselves into small, independently living bachelor herds, within which antagonistic behaviour continues until a dominance hierarchy is established. They rejoin the herds in the rutting season. However, the solitary bulls are usually past their prime, no longer reproductively active, and vulnerable to predation. Being on their own, they lack the collective protection of the herd, and compensate for this by wariness and aggression.
Buffalo were exterminated from the vast areas of Africa by the rinderpest epidemic that swept through the continent in the last century. Where they did survive the recovery was remarkable, and numbers quicly built up again. The presence of foot and mouth disease in most populations remains a serious concern, and is the major deterrent to restocking farms with buffalo. The breeding of diswease-free herds could make all the difference to the return of the species to much of its former range.
Dr. John Hanks
of the exclusive limited edition (550) "Sappi" portfolio. Money
generated from the sale of the portfolio go to the World Wildlife
Fund South Africa.
African Buffalo - Robert Bateman
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African Buffalo - Robert Bateman