Syncerus cafferAfrican buffalo

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Geographic Range

The African buffalo is found in the middle of the African continent (Estes, 1991). This range stretches from just south of the Sahara to just north of South Africa (Nowak, 1983).


African buffaloes are found in arid biomes, including areas with rivers, lakes, and swamps. They are found at sea level as well as in mountainous altitudes. African buffaloes like dense cover, but are found in open woodlands as well (Estes, 1991).

Physical Description

The African buffalo is an extremely large animal. The length from the head to the back ranges from 2,100 mm to 3,000 mm; tail length ranges from 750 mm to 1,100 mm; and the shoulder height ranges from 1,000 mm to 1,700 mm. African buffalos have large heads and limbs along with a broad chest. The ears on these buffalos are large and droopy. The horns of the African buffalo either spread out and downward, upward, or out and back. In males, the two horns are joined by a boss, which is a shield that covers the entire head. Size varies between subspecies of the African buffalo; S. c. caffer, found in the eastern savannahs, may be twice as large as S. c. nana, which occurs in equatorial forests. The color of buffalo hair ranges from brown to black. Young buffalos have a dense covering of hair; adults have sparce hair; and very little hair is present on the very old (Nowak, 1983).

  • Range mass
    500 to 900 kg
    1101.32 to 1982.38 lb


Reproduction occurs throughout the year in African buffalo, but reproduction peaks are associated with seasonal rainfall. On the Serengeti Plain, heavy rains occur from February to July. Conception usually occurs at the end of this wet season, and the birth of the calf takes place during the second half of the following wet season. Females are in heat for 23 days and estrus lasts 5 - 6 days. Once the egg is fertilized, gestation takes almost a year, 340 days.

Usually only one calf is born, and it weighs around 40 kg. Males leave their mother after two years to join a bachelor group. Females remain with the mother until they have produced their own young or longer (Nowak, 1983). Females reach sexual maturity at 5 years of age, which is 3 - 4 years before males (Estes, 1991).

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual
  • Range number of offspring
    1 (low)
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    11.43 to 11.53 months
  • Range weaning age
    4 to 12 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    1475 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    1674 days
  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • post-independence association with parents



African buffalo are highly sociable animals that travel in large, nonterritorial herds. The herds are composed of related cows, which are arranged in a linear dominance hierarchy (Estes, 1991). Herds include females and their young from the past two birthing seasons. During the dry season, the males form what are known as bachelor groups, which contain 3 - 4 males. Within the bachelor groups, there is a dominance hierarchy. Members of the group fight each other, usually over an estrous female. Some old males live apart from the group permanently. African buffalo are extremely powerful and deadly, and run at speeds up to 57 km/hr (Nowak, 1983).

During mating season, bulls monitor a female's readiness by urine-testing. A cow is protected by a prospective bull when the cow comes into heat. The cows, however, are evasive and may not commit to the first bull, but instead may wait and attract bulls of a higher rank. After two or three days of this behavior, the chosen bull licks and rests his chin on the rump of the cow. If the cow stays, copulation begins, with a minimum of 2 copulations within a half hour. While the male usually intiates copulation, a female can also solict a male by putting her head under the bull's belly or by putting her chin on the rump (Estes, 1991).

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

African buffalos are herbivorous and are grazing animals. In the dry season, the pastures diminish and the buffalos move toward water or a depression in the ground and feed off of low nutrient grass. Once the rainy season begins, grasses increase considerably and are heavily grazed by the buffalo (Mloszewski, 1983). African buffalo spend 8 1/2 to 10 1/3 hours a day grazing. These animals graze slightly more at night than in the day. African buffalo also water once every day (Estes, 1991).

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

In the past, African buffaloes have been hunted for food and for sport (Nowak, 1983).

  • Positive Impacts
  • food
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Some people consider African buffaloes to be the most dangerous big game animal in Africa. Old bulls have been known to stalk and attack humans. Scientists discredit this claim and say that these stories come from hunters who were trying to hunt down a wounded animal (Nowak, 1983).

Conservation Status

The population of African buffaloes has decreased a little to due an increase in human activities (Nowak, 1983).


Toni Lynn Newell (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

dominance hierarchies

ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


Estes, R. 1991. The Behavior Guide to African Mammals. University of California Press. Berkeley, Los Angles, and London.

Mloszewski, M. 1983. The Behaviour and Ecology of the African Buffalo. Cambridge University Press. U.S.A.

Nowak, R.; Paradiso, J. 1983. Walker's Mammals of the World, 4th Edition. The John Hopkins University Press. Baltimore and London.