Wildlife TV

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Dangerous Herbivores: Buffalo

on July 15, 2013

The most dangerous animals in the African bush are in fact the large herbivores rather than the carnivores. Of the Big 5 (historically the most dangerous animals to hunt) only 2 are big cats, the others are plant eaters. Animals that feed exclusively on plant matter do not need to hunt and kill other animals and in fact are often prey for predators, however, as a result of living in such a potentially hostile environment, many large herbivores are equipped with formidable weaponry such as horns and tusks that help them to defend against threats and sometimes fight amongst themselves. Humans sometimes come into conflict with these animals, sometimes with deadly results; in previous posts we looked at how Elephants (Loxodonta africana) and Rhinoceroses (Diceros bicornis and Ceratotherium simum), are quite capable of harming and even killing people. In this post we will look at the other herbivore in the Big 5, the African Buffalo (Syncerus caffer).


The Cape buffalo, or African buffalo, is a cow-like (bovine) grazing animal and despite its similarity to its docile farm dwelling cousins, it is notoriously ill tempered. Both females and males (cows and bulls) have horns but the bulls possess much larger and thicker horns that join in the middle of their heads to form a solid bony mass called a boss. The boss and horns of a buffalo are used to great effect to fight for dominance and to deter threats

Buffalo have another asset on their side, they live in large herds and practice mobbing behaviour whereby several individuals will ‘work together’ to aggress a potential threat such as a pride of lions. Also, males will often endeavour to protect calves which is usually a job left up to females in other species.

Buffalo have acute senses all round and this, added by the fact that they live in herds, means that it is very hard to surprise them, however, when males get older, they often leave the herd or the herd moves on and they cannot keep up, the result is a big old bull living on its own. These ‘dagga boys’, as they are known, can be a lot more aggressive than other buffalo, this is because their senses are fading and they don’t have the reassurance that comes from living in a herd and they generally are less secure and more defensive; stumbling upon a dagga boy in the wild could be very dangerous indeed, there is even anecdotal evidence that when people have fled up into a tree to escape an aggressive buffalo, it has waited at the bottom of the tree for the person to come down!

A headshot of an adult male African Buffalo (Syncerus caffer) with its horns and boss visible.

This adult male buffalo (Syncerus caffer) has a well formed boss and long horns.
Photo Credits.

African buffalo are notriously bad tempered and not afraid to act when they feel threatened. It can also be quite difficult to interpret buffalo’s subtle behaviour and thus misread a situation that can result in danger. Many hunters and safari goers have ended up on the wrong end of a buffalo’s horns by underestimating these intelligent animals. I hope you enjoyed learning about buffalo. In the next article in this series we will look at another dangerous herbivore that is actually the most deadly mammal on the planet; the hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius).

To learn about even more dangerous animals, check out our series page.

Much love,



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