African buffalo

Syncerus caffer

TAXONOMY

Syncerus caffer (Sparrmann, 1779), Cape of Good Hope, South Africa.

OTHER COMMON NAMES

French: Buffle d'Afrique; German: Kaffernbuffel.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Body length 82.6-118 in (210-300 cm); shoulder height 53-70 in (135-179 cm); tail length 29.5-43.3 in (75-110 cm); weight 1,100-1,984 lb (500-900 kg). Minor sexual dimorphism in body size, with adult females weighing about 17% less than adult males; the smallest subspecies from dense forests is half the body weight of the plains form. The most notable feature is its large head and broad muzzle. Males have relatively short (up to 59 in [150 cm]) but stout horns that typically extend sideways, first curving down, then up along the distal half of their length. Females also have horns, but these are smaller and narrower in girth than those of males. On older males, the broad bases of the horns abut, forming an almost solid plate across the forehead. The forest-dwelling subspecies have shorter and less curved horns. The pelage is short across the body and varies from black to reddish brown, depending on subspecies, sex, and age class. The forest subspecies is reddish brown. There is a fringe of long hairs on the ears and a short mane. The tail is long, ending in a prominent black tuft of hairs.

DISTRIBUTION

At a broad level, it is distributed in Africa from Guinea to southern Sudan and then south to Angola and eastern South Africa. Within large portions of this range, its populations are confined to nature reserves. Across its geographic range, it in-

habits low to high elevations as long as there are sufficient amounts of suitable habitat. It is particularly abundant in parts of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Democratic Republic of the Congo.

HABITAT

Most abundant in savannas and riparian complexes (e.g., swamps and river floodplains), but it also occupies forests, grasslands, and shrublands from plains to mountains. In savannas, it requires large areas of dense grass with thickets or trees for resting cover. Populations that are forest dwelling obtain sufficient cover from the trees and bushes, but must meet their food requirements by frequenting small openings among the forest where ground vegetation such as grasses and forbs are abundant. Visit waterholes and muddy areas where they can drink and also wallow.

BEHAVIOR

Form large groups comprised of subgroups complexly structured by sex and age. This structure is in part hierarchically maintained by social dominance. Herd size is mediated by broad habitat factors. In forest-dwelling buffalo, groups are generally between 3-12 individuals comprised of females, their calves, and yearlings; in open habitats, herds are larger, are usually 50-500 animals, but occasionally reach up to 3,000. These largest herds lack the cohesion of the smaller typical groups. Adult females, their young, and males up to three years old form relatively stable subgroups within the herd; males older than three years form their own subgroups, while many males older than 10 years are solitary. Together, these subgroups move about within the larger herd, as it moves throughout its home range. During the dry season, some of the all-male subgroups may leave the herd to exploit feeding opportunities in an increasingly nutritionally challenging environment. In most areas, breeding occurs in the rainy season soon after calves are born. Males test the urine of females to determine if they are in estrus; when ready to mate, the cow will stand and allow the bull to mount and copulate.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Primarily grazers on savannas, consuming vast quantities of grasses. However, the subspecies inhabiting forests include a relatively large amount of shrubs in their diet. Not highly selective feeders, so can acquire the bulk of their forage more easily where there are tall grasses.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Polygynous. Reproduction is tied closely to the rainy season. The gestation period is approximately 11.5 months. Cows first calve when 4.5-5 years old, producing a single young, although occasionally twins are born. Thereafter, mature cows typically reproduce ever two years. Males do not participate in the rut until they are about seven years old.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Classified as Lower Risk/Conservation Dependent. After rinderpest epidemics around the turn of the century, it was greatly reduced across much of its range and extirpated in some regions. Since then, populations have increased and the species has reoccupied much of its former range. However, loss of lower elevation habitat to agriculture has restricted it to nature reserves in many areas.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Hunted by local peoples for meat. As well, it has a reputation for being dangerous and so with its formidable size, this adds to its allure for trophy hunters. Such reputation also makes it undesirable in areas inhabited by humans. ♦

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