African Cape Buffalo African Cape Buffalo
African Cape Buffalo

Scientific Classification

Common Name
African cape buffalo, cape buffalo, savanna buffalo
Genus Species
Syncerus (together horns) caffer

Fast Facts

The cape buffalo is a large, dark brown to black hoofed mammal with drooping fringed ears and large curved horns.
About 1.0 to 1.7 m (3.3 to 5.6 ft.) tall at shoulder; 2.1 to 3.4 m (7 to 11 ft.) in length
Female: Females are smaller than males
Approximately 425 to 900 kg (935 to 2000 lbs.)
Herbivore, eats tall, coarse grasses
Gestation lasts approximately 11.5 months; usually a single calf is born
Sexual Maturity
Between 3.5 to 5 years
Life Span
15 to 25 years
Eastern and southern Africa. The forest buffalo, a smaller subspecies, is found in the forests of central Africa.
Open savannas and grasslands near a permanent source of water
Global: Unknown
IUCN: Lower Risk/Conservation Dependent
CITES: Not listed
USFWS: Not listed

Fun Facts

  1. The horns of the cape buffalo are an excellent indication of age and gender. The females and young males do not have the hard shielding that protects the base of the skull in large adult males.
  2. Cape buffalos are extremely social and live in large, mixed herds of up to 2000 members! Both sexes have a separate hierarchy, with males dominant over females. Members of the same subgroup will stay in direct contact with each other and will often sleep with their heads resting on one another.
  3. The African buffalo, which is often confused with the Asian water buffalo, shares many of the same characteristics but is considered a separate species.
  4. Cape buffalo are always within a day's walk of a water source. This is especially true in the dry season when they are eating dried grasses.
  5. Cape buffalo have the reputation of being dangerous when they are cornered or injured. There are many tales told by big game hunters earlier this century of injured buffalo turning back and goring or killing the shooter.

Ecology and Conservation

By living in large herds and eating tall coarse grasses, Cape buffalo play a vital role in the ecology of the grasslands. Many of the smaller grazers are unable to digest the tall grasses, and the tall grasses may prevent them from getting to the shorter, more palatable grasses in the absence of buffalo. 

Competition for food sources by non-native species such as goats and cattle have challenged the native African grazers. However, the introduction of foreign diseases from non-native species remains the biggest threat. Currently the national parks of Africa are taking great steps to protect their native wildlife against Bovine Tuberculosis. While this does not have a serious effect on domestic cattle it can decimate the herds of cape buffalo and their prey species such as lion and hyena.


Estes, R. D. The Safari Companion. Post Mills, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing Co., 1993.

MacDonald, D. The Encyclopedia of Mammals: 2. London: George Allen & Unwin Co., 1985.

Nowak, R. M. Walker's Mammals of the World. Fifth edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991.