Syncerus caffer (African buffalo)

buffalo [English]; buffel, Arika-buffel [Afrikaans]; Büffel [German]; bume d' Afrique [French]; nyati, mbogo [Swahili]; inyathi [isiNdebele] [isiXhosa] [isiZulu]; nare [Sepedi] [Sesotho]; nare [Setswana]; nyati [Shona]; inyatsi [siSwati]; nyarhi [Xitsonga]; nari [Tshivenda]; nali [Lozi] unyati [Yei]; |Goab [Nama] [Damara]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Synapsida (mammal-like reptiles) > Therapsida > Theriodontia >  Cynodontia > Mammalia (mammals) > Placentalia (placental mammals) > Laurasiatheria > Ferungulata > Cetartiodactyla (even-toed ungulates and cetaceans) > Ruminantia (ruminants) > Family: Bovidae (antelopes and buffalo) > Subfamily: Bovinae

Syncerus caffer (African buffalo)

African buffalo, Kruger National Park, South Africa. [photo Callie de Wet ©]

Syncerus caffer (African buffalo)

African buffalo herd, Kruger National Park. [photo Arno Meintjes ©]

Syncerus caffer (African buffalo)

African buffalos fighting, Kitani, Kenya. [photo Crazy Kanga ©]


Buffalo are massive, heavily built ungulates that resemble cattle. Adult bulls are dark-brown to black in colour and cows are not as dark. Calves are reddish brown. Both sexes have heavy, large horns that are in the shape of a shallow “w”. The average horn length from the central boss following the curve to the tip is 1m. The central horn “boss” is particularly well-developed in the bulls forming a “helmet-like” structure over the top of the head.

One of the “Big Five” in Africa, buffalo are a highly popular tourist attraction in national parks, this makes them highly prized as an important source of income.

Distribution and habitat

Eastern and northern areas of the southern African subregion, with an isolated population remaining in the Addo Elephant Park of the Eastern Cape Province. Buffalo prefer open woodland savanna but tolerate a wide range of habitats with abundant grass, drinking water and cover.


Height at shoulder 1.4 m; weight 700 kg (male) and 550 kg (female)

Dental Formula

I C P M = 32

General behaviour

Buffalo are social and can form herds consisting of several thousand animals. These very large herds may break into smaller groups that will rejoin the main herd later. A dominance hierarchy exists amongst adult bulls in the mixed herd. Cows also have a pecking order within the heard.


Grazers, but will occasionally browse.

Syncerus caffer (African buffalo)

African buffalo, Satara area of the Kruger National Park, South Africa. [photo Francois Dreyer ©]


Buffalo are seasonal breeders with calves being born in the wet and warm summer months, after a gestation period of 340 days. Calves are born in the herd and are able to keep up with the herd a few hours after birth. The herd is collectively protective of young and calves will usually be ushered to the centre of the herd when danger threatens, with the adults forming a “guard” on the outer perimeter of the herd.

Syncerus caffer (African buffalo)  

African buffalo calf. [photo Callie de Wet ©]


Life span

15 years and up to 30 years in captivity


While still relatively numerous the number of African buffalo has been greatly reduced by hunting and habitat loss. The populations in several southern African localities have never recovered from the devastating rinderpest outbreak of the 1890s. Buffalo are not regarded as endangered but only exist in numbers within the protection of parks and reserves. Their conservation status is lower risk – conservation dependent. Probably the greatest threat comes from the bushmeat trade.

Text by Denise Hamerton

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