African Buffalo (Syncerus caffer)

Male African buffalo in dust


  • Name: African buffalo
  • Latin: Syncerus caffer
  • Classification: Mammal
  • Origin: Africa
  • Lifespan: 15-25 years
  • AKA: Buffalo, cape buffalo, forest buffalo, Savannah buffalo


  • Kingdom: Animalia (animals)
  • Phylum: Chordata (vertebrates)
  • Class: Mammalia (mammals)
  • Order: Artiodactyla (even-toed ungulates)
  • Family: Bovidae (cloven-hoofed mammals)
  • Genus: Syncerus (buffalo)
  • Species: Syncerus caffer (African buffalo)


  • Weight: 300-900kg
  • Height: 100-170cm

The African buffalo is massive, heavily built, cattle like animal. It has large and heavy horns that curve downward, then upward and inward. Both sexes have horns, with the males being more gnarled. These horns are so strong and compact that they cannot be penetrated even by a rifle bullet. Both the male and female have a dark brown coat. Sight and hearing are both rather poor but their sense of smell is well developed.


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Habitat & Distribution

The African buffalo is found throughout northern and southern savannah. They also live in swamps, floodplains, mopane grasslands and forests. They prefer habitat with dense cover, such as reeds and thickets. Herds of this animal have also been found in open woodland and grasslands.

The African buffalo once ranged widely in sub-Saharan Africa, although their distribution has shrank due to hunting and disease.

Map showing the distribution of the African buffalo taxa



The diet of the African buffalo is mainly made up of grass. This animal feeds mainly at night because they seem to have a poor ability to regulate body temperature. Without fresh, green feed, buffalo lose condition faster than other savannah ungulates.

While the African buffalo is drinking, tick birds take the opportunity to eat ticks and other parasites from around their face. This is the only time the buffalo will tolerate sharp beaks around their sensitive eyes.


The African buffalo lives in herds of a few hundred, although this number can increase into thousands during the rainy seasons. The females and their offspring tend to make up the majority of the herd as males spend a lot of time living in small bachelor groups. Bulls older than 12 years of age however, tend to live on their own.


African buffalos mate and give birth only during the rainy season. When a cow comes into heat, a bull will closely guard her and keep other bulls at bay, which can be difficult as cows are evasive and can attract many males.

A cow will have her first calf at five years of age and their gestation period lasts for a total of 11.5 months. The calf will remain hidden in vegetation, being nursed by its mother for its first few weeks before joining the main herd. The calves are kept in the centre of the herd for safety.

The maternal bond between and mother and her offspring lasts longer than other bovids, however, the bond will end if the mother has a new calf, and will keep her previous offspring away with horn jabs. The males will leave their mothers at 2 years old to join bachelor groups and the females remain with the herd.

Young African buffalo
Young African buffalo



  • Forest dwelling cape buffalo have backward facing horns to avoid getting tangled in tree branches.
  • There is a large tuft of hair on the tip of the tail which serves as a fly swatter and keeps biting insects at bay.
  • The African buffalo has a well-developed sense of smell, as it can smell water from miles away.
  • This animal has very powerful leg muscles and can sprint at speeds of up to 37 miles per hour.


In history, the African buffalo numbers dropping dramatically during the 18th century due to a rindepest epidemic. Today, disease still threatens this creature, for example, foot & mouth disease lowers their numbers significantly, particularly in Zimbabwe.

Their numbers also decline during dry spells, as they cannot adapt very well to dry conditions and struggle to find enough food when the grass is short.

Predation has a minor effect on buffalo numbers, but is still a threat to individuals. The African buffalo is hunted and eaten by lions and leopards.


  • IUCN Status: Least Concern

75% of African buffalo numbers can be found in and around protected areas, such as the Serengeti National Park, the Kilimanjaro National Park and Tanzania. This animal is part of the ‘Big 5’ (a group of animals most sought after by tourists of wildlife safaris) which gives people a great economic incentive to conserve this animal.

The ‘Big 5’ include the African buffalo, the elephant, the rhino, the lion and the leopard.

Fun Facts

  • Male: Bull
  • Female: Cow
  • Young: Calf
  • Group: Herd
  • There are two subspecies of the African buffalo, which include the cape buffalo and the forest buffalo.
  • The African buffalo can live in herds containing thousands of individuals.
  • The males can weigh twice as much as the female.

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