The African buffalo is dangerous

Danger of buffaloes is overrated

The ‘Cape buffalo’ (Syncerus caffer caffer) as a subspecies of the ‘African buffalo’ (Syncerus caffer) is the typical buffalo species of the Southern African savannah biome. The denomination of ‘African Black Death’ was coined by trophy hunters, who not fatally shot buffalos and when hunting down the wounded animals, where attacked by them. Marketing folks later on liked to spice up their safari advertisements with this expression and the name stuck.

As with all other African Big Game, buffaloes are not dangerous by themselves to humans, but only if they get attacked, feel threatened or cornered they will defend themselves. An African buffalo breeding herd can be compared to a herd of wild cattle. They roam around for food and water, send out pathfinders, and protect the vulnerable and young in its midst. For humans on foot the only danger is getting in its path when moving and especially when stampeding.

Dagha-Boys are dangerous

Why are they called ‘Dagha-Boys’?

By the age of ten years onwards, when bulls are getting over the peak of their reproductive cycle, they are leaving voluntarily the breeding herds and wander around in either small groups or alone. They are not able any more to follow the speed of the herd and therefore will remain stationary at places near water and soft vegetation. For getting rid of parasites and to cool down, they are wallowing in mud and take on a cement-like color. Therefore, they are colloquially called ‘Dagha-Boys’ (‘Dagha’ means ‘mortar’ in isiZulu language).

And these Dagha-Boys are dangerous to humans. Reason is simple: they have not got the protection of the herd anymore and are the preferred prey of lions. Therefore, they are always alert and itchy, trying to defend themselves against any predators. There are two standard situations, which lead to most accidents with humans (besides of following a wounded buffalo):

Dagha-Boys on flood plains

Firstly, the buffalo is living at a plain near the water. Typically, there are large tufts of grass, wild date palms and/or reed and in between them short, soft grasses to graze on. Humans (and predators) like to walk the short grass areas, walk around a reed island and right in front of them lays a buff solemnly ruminating his cud. The buff is as surprised as the intruder is, he jumps up to his feet and attacks without due. Bad stuff. There is no time and place to hide anymore. One of my mentors (Mr. Brendan Pienaar) was mangled in such a situation and survived only as his back-up guide gave the buff an anchoring shot, which enabled Brendan to get out under the buff and brain him finally.

Dagha-Boys next to a drainage line or pan

Secondly, the buffalo chooses a more secure area to lay up. Most of the time this will be a water-filled pan fringed by various trees and bushes somewhere inland and away from a river. There are less lions but also not much vegetation to hide. He therefore will choose a place, at which he is protected from three sides and which he can defend in front of him. Buffalo thorn trees are widespread and exactly what he needs. Strong thorns defending him and a deep shade by its soft leaves. He therefore will pull backwards into the Buffalo-thorn until there is only a tunnel in front of him to defend.

Now, an unsuspecting predator (maybe a human) walks to the pan for checking out tracks or other reasons. The buff sees the intruder and immediately attacks him, which is far superior in its effects compared to defending himself. This is very bad stuff, as there is no time for any useful reaction anymore, except shooting (which every naturalist and conservationist wants to avoid). Another one of my mentors (Mr. Devon Myers) came into exactly such situation and brained the buff with one shot. The attack started at a distance of about 10 meters, Dev shot, when the buff was three meters away, stepped sidewards and by the momentum of movement the already dead buff fell down two meters behind him.

Again, it is not the buffs mistake that he gets threatened by an intruder and he only defends himself. Man is the intruder. Because nature by itself is neutral.

Lessons learned about Cape buffaloes

  • For intentionally walking in buffalo country, it is best to make regular noises in order not to surprise big game. That way you will not see much game, but also will unlikely be attacked.
  • If attacked by an African buffalo, running away, and climbing a tree is the only alternative (except shooting). Buffalos will never mock-charge, but they always charge seriously.
  • ‘Never run – whatever you do’ is a hard and fast rule for lions, leopards, and rhinos. And at an elephant mock charge. But not for buffs.