African Buffalo (Syncerus caffer)

Africa’s only wild African buffalo ox species is an adaptable and widespread creature that lives in large herds on the savanna and smaller herds in forested areas. The African buffalo is the most dangerous of all game species seen on Uganda safari, especially if wounded or solitary. Its reputation has given the buffalo the status of being one of the “big five” recognized worldwide.

African buffalo are huge, even-toed ungulates, characterized by their stocky build and heavy horns. Horns are present on both sexes, and they are not ridged. The buffalo is easily distinguished from other animals because of its dark black color and its characteristic horns smaller and lighter, curving outward, backward, and upwards. Ears are large fringed with hair and hang below massive horns.

Buffalo can be seen in just about all of Uganda’s national parks and large forests. It is one of the easiest animals to spot on safari in Uganda. Buffalo is common in Queen Elizabeth, and Murchison Falls national parks, where you may see hybrids of the savanna buffalo (Syncerus caffer caffer) of east Africa and the red buffalo (Syncerus caffer nanus) of the West African forest.

African Buffalo africa big 5 animals

Hippopotamus essentially translates to the Greek for “river horse“.

Bulky and barrel-shaped, it would seem hippos would be clumsy on both land and water. However, adaptations to their semi-aquatic environments have allowed them to move swiftly on both water and land.

On land, they are able to move at speeds up to 30 km per hour and can maintain these speeds for several hundred meters. In shallow waters their short legs provide powerful propulsion through water, while their webbed feet allow them to navigate on shallow river bottoms.

Placement of eyes, ears, and nostrils high on their head allows them to remain mostly submerged while still being able to breathe and stay aware of their surroundings. When completely submerging, the nostrils close and ears fold to prevent water from entering them.

The jaws of hippopotamus are capable of opening up to 150 degrees, showing enormous, sharp, incisors and canine tusks. Canines grow to 50 cm and incisors grow to 40 cm, sharpening themselves as they grind their mouths together during grazing.

African Buffalo


The most important habitat requirements for African buffalo are abundant tall, sweet grass species, ample surface water, mud baths and sufficient shrub and trees for refuge. These habitat parameters are associated with riverine valleys, marshlands, sub-tropical savannah woodlands and ecotones of broadleaf montane forests. Vast open, grassy plains lacking woody shelter are usually avoided as are short-grass or heavily over-grazed areas.

Internal thermo-regulation is a significant problem for mega-herbivores, so mud baths are important to buffalo as a mud cover on the skin regulates body temperature and repels ecto-parasites and flies. This enables the animal to tolerate air temperatures of up to 40°C. However, buffalo can also tolerate low temperatures for short periods and are even found on the snowline Mount Kilimanjaro at altitudes of 4000 m.

African buffalo (Syncerus caffer)


Africa buffalo are social and congregate in herds ranging from a few individuals to over a thousand. They form two types of herds: large, mixed-sex and mixed-age herds, sometimes called “breeding herds,” and small, all-male “bachelor herds” of about 20 to 1500 individuals.

Most herds do not migrate, especially herds that would face difficulty migrating naturally due to habitat fragmentation, fences, or other barriers. Migrations of over 80 km have been recorded, with African buffalo exhibiting different ranges for the two seasons.

They are not strictly diurnal, but exhibit activity throughout the 24 hours of a day, usually with rest periods of low activity in the early morning and late afternoon. Mixed herds are mostly composed of adult females with their young and sub-adults (3 to 5 years old), and a few transient adult males. Adults make up 72% of the population, sub-adults 22%, and young approximately 6%.

Dominance is most likely based on the body condition difference between the two interacting males, though it has also been speculated that a component of this hierarchy is endocrinal in nature. Males may spar to determine dominance. Frequency of sparring appears to be different among populations. Sparring is initiated when one male approaches and presents his horns to another male, who responds similarly. They lock horns and twist them from side to side. In adult bulls, the average is seven bouts of this behavior, lasting 10 seconds each per sparring session. After sparring, males typically return to grazing, as sparring almost never escalates beyond what appears to be mild competition.

Dominance interactions are rare and typically include threat displays. Occasionally males fight by colliding once head-on against the boss of their horns. The winner is immediately decided by speed and weight and the loser is often chased a short distance. More serious fights are extremely rare and can end in death of one or both of the combatants.

Herds seem to exhibit communal decision making when it comes to choosing where to travel. During the morning and afternoon rest periods, when the herd is mostly lying on the ground, a few adult cows will sequentially stand up and gaze off into the same direction. Later, when the herd is rousing, the first individuals to start moving all travel in that direction towards their new grazing location. Others follow their lead.

Decisions about where to graze seem to be determined by the females, because if the males in the front stop to graze before their predetermined destination has been reached, the females behind simply continue without them.

An interesting behavior observed in African buffaloes is seemingly altruistic partnerships. In one case, a partnership between two old males expressed itself as the healthier of the two assisting his blind and ailing companion. The more able bull would signal to the other when and in what direction to move and when to stop.


  • Christoph Ng, University of Manitoba, Jane Waterman, University of Manitoba, Tanya Dewey, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
  • Allsopp, M., J. Theron, M. Coetzee, M. Dunsterville, B. Allsopp. 1999. The occurrence of Theileria and Cowdria parasites in African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) and their associated Amblyomma hebraeum ticks. Onderstepoort Journal of Veterinary Research, 66: 245-249.
  • Mloszewski, M. 1983. The Behaviour and Ecology of the African Buffalo. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Furstenburg, Deon. (2010). Focus on the African Buffalo (Syncerus caffer). 05040. 46-49.
  • IUCN Antelope Specialist Group. 2008. Syncerus cafferIn IUCN. 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.1
  • Bradt Travel Guides, Uganda, By Philip Briggs, Andrew Roberts.