The African buffalo or Cape buffalo is a large African bovine. A characteristic feature of the horns of adult male African buffalo is fusion of their bases, forming a continuous bone shield referred to as a “boss”. From the base, the horns diverge downwards, then smoothly curve upwards and outwards. In large bulls, the distance between the ends of the horns can reach upwards of one metre.
The African buffalo is one of the most successful grazers in Africa. Herd size is highly variable. The core of the herds is made up of related females, and their offspring, in an almost linear dominance hierarchy. The basic herds are surrounded by subherds of subordinate males, high-ranking males and females, and old or invalid animals. The young males keep their distance from the dominant bull, which is recognizable by the thickness of his horns. During the dry season, males split from the herd and form bachelor groups.
African buffaloes are notable for their apparent altruism. When chased by predators, a herd sticks close together and makes it hard for the predators to pick off one member. Calves are gathered in the middle. A calf’s distress call gets the attention of not only the mother, but also the herd. Buffaloes engage in mobbing behavior when fighting off predators.
Owing to its unpredictable nature, which makes it highly dangerous to humans, the African buffalo has never been domesticated. Being a member of the big five game, the Cape buffalo is a sought-after trophy in hunting.
Other than humans, African Cape buffaloes have few predators aside from lions, and are capable of defending themselves. Lions do kill and eat buffalo regularly, and in some regions, the buffaloes are the lions’ primary prey. It typically takes several lions to bring down a single adult buffalo, usually the entire pride joins the hunt; however, several incidents have been reported in which lone adult male lions have been able to successfully bring down adult animals. The average-sized crocodile typically attacks only old solitary animals and young calves, though they can kill healthy adults. Also, the Nile crocodile is the only animal that typically takes down adult buffalo alone, as pride attack is the preferred method of lions when taking down such large prey. The cheetah, leopard, and spotted hyena are a threat only to newborn calves, though spotted hyenas have been recorded killing full-grown bulls on rare occasions.