Micato Musings


A Few Minutes with a Cape Buffalo


People get all excited about the lion, Mr. King of the Jungle, and are SO impressed by the elephant, the world’s largest land mammal. But what about me? The Cape Buffalo? Hello? I’m one of the Big Five, too! So I asked Micato Safaris if I could do a guest blog post, and they generously obliged.

What They Also Call Me

In East Africa, where they speak Swahili, I’m known as Nyati. In parts of South Africa and Zimbabwe the Zulu people call me Inyathi; in other parts of South Africa and Namibia, people who speak Afrikaans call me Buffels. The Setswana speakers in Botswana call me Nare—they also have a separate name for my little son, the buffalo calf, who they call Natshana.

Now, when it comes to my family members, well…the herd is so close that we rarely need to speak, we usually just KNOW what the other buffalo is thinking. But when something specific needs to be expressed, I’ll usually hear about it via a bellow, grunt, honk or croak. People say it’s similar to how human males communicate at the gym.

Best Places to Find Me

We are everywhere in East and Southern Africa: Chyulu Hills, Serengeti, Samburu, Etosha, Okavango Delta… wherever there is grass to eat and wide-open plains to exercise in, seriously I’m not picky. My only caveat is that I need to stay close to water—have to hydrate every day!

What You’ll See Me Doing

Hanging out on the savannah with a bunch of big guys, because (ahem) in my family I’m in the sub-herd of high-ranking males, which means (a) I’m important (but you probably already knew that), and (b) I get first pick of the ladies in the herd. The ladies are, of course, the core of the herd, with their kids—I’m an old-fashioned, chivalrous kind of guy.

You can tell I’m important by the thickness of my horns, and I use those bad boys to fight off any other males who try to challenge me. You can catch me sparring with my horns a lot—either for play or in an actual battle for dominance (which I obviously always win.)

When not fighting or eating, I’m on the alert for any distress in my family. We’re tough, as you can tell, and not easy to hunt—taking down one adult buffalo requires the hunting prowess of multiple lions working together. However, our calves are more vulnerable, so we cluster around them whenever possible, and come to their defense as soon as we hear the call (as illustrated in the famous Battle of Kruger.) This is part of why we’re known for our altruism—it’s rare that any male in the wild would protect a calf that wasn’t his own.

Most Famous Admirer

Ernest Hemingway. As one of the Big Five—the five most dangerous and difficult animals to hunt—I posed a rare challenge to that great writer, who travelled to Africa in the bad old days when big game hunting wasn’t controlled, and my family constantly had to fight off hunters. Thank goodness things are more controlled now, although I still work out regularly, flexing my muscles and jogging the plains, just in case I have to charge someone to protect my family.

Like all big game hunters, Ernest loved and feared me in equal measure, and even wrote a whole story starring me, called “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.” I’m not sure how many copies it sold, but I hope not a lot—I mean, guys, I DIE at the end. Worst. Ending. Ever.

Most Embarrassing Facts

None.

Ok, ok, I’ll give you just one. My temper. When I feel threatened I am quick to go on the offensive: lions, leopards, crocodiles—I’ve attacked them all. Amongst African humans, I’m known as “Black Death” or “Widowmaker,” and they’re not joking. It’s an embarrassing personal trait, but also a useful one—it’s why I’m the only member of the exclusive Big Five club that isn’t classified as endangered or vulnerable.

Favourite Food

Mmmm, grass! That’s all I eat, and all I ever will. Tall, coarse grass is my favourite treat, which makes me a popular guy on the savannah, since my family and I act as lawnmowers, clipping down great swathes of dense grass and exposing the gentler green ground-cover below for the grazers with more delicate palates (ahem, antelopes—wimps!)

Everything Else

Type: Mammal

Diet: I’m a vegetarian, but that doesn’t make me nice, ok? I can wrassle with the best of them.

Average life span in the wild: About 18 to 20 years old

Size: My family members are all within the range of 5 to 11 feet long, and 3 to 5 feet tall—but don’t let my short legs fool you, I’m still fast… and pretty darn huge.

Weight: 1,100–2,000 pounds (gentlemen, like me, are larger than the ladies). For someone who’s about four feet tall, this is inarguably a lot. And that’s all muscle!

Protection status: According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, I am in the “Least Concern” category, which means that they were worried enough to check on me, but when they saw that my family and I were doing pretty well they decided they didn’t have to fret about us anymore. At least, for now—as long as there’s plenty of grass to eat, and those darn hunters stay off my back.

Group name: “Herd” is most common, although people also refer to us as “a gang” or “an obstinacy.” The last also means “a state of stubbornness,” which seems most appropriate. I dare you to argue with me about it!

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