Buffalo (oxen), wild or domesticated oxen native to Asia and Africa. Like domestic cattle and some other artiodactyl mammals, buffalo are cud-chewing and have cloven hooves and permanent horns, but they are much larger and more powerful than cattle. The so-called American buffalo are more properly called bison.
The Asian, or water, buffalo is a native of India and other parts of Asia. Measuring up to 1.8 m (6 ft) at the shoulder, the water buffalo has thick horns that sweep in an outward curve back toward the shoulders and may extend up to 1.2 m (3.9 ft) from tip to tip. Broad, splayed feet enable the animal to live in a marshy habitat. The water buffalo has short, stiff, scanty hair, and a large portion of the hide is bare and glossy. In the wild, the water buffalo is dangerous if aroused. The animal has been domesticated, however, and has been used as a draft animal since ancient times. In the Philippines the water buffalo is known as the carabao. Another Asian buffalo is the tamarau, a small, hairy variety of water buffalo. Native to the Philippine island of Mindoro, this animal is only about 1.1 m (about 3.5 ft) high at the shoulder. Two rare, related species live on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi (Celebes).
African buffalo include the cape buffalo and the dwarf forest buffalo; both are different forms of the same species. The cape buffalo, which inhabits most of southern and central Africa, is large, measuring about 1.7 m (about 5.5 ft) at the shoulder. It is noted for horns that are massive at the base, forming a helmet over the forehead and reaching a length of about 1 m (about 3 ft). The dwarf forest buffalo lives in forest areas of central and western Africa. About 1.1 m (about 3.5 ft) high, it has a red hide and backward-curving horns about 76 cm (about 30 in) long.
Scientific classification: Buffalo belong to the family Bovidae, subfamily Bovinae. The Asian buffalo is classified as Bubalus bubalis, the tamarau as Bubalus mindorensis. The cape buffalo and the dwarf forest buffalo are different forms of Syncerus caffer.
Ecology and Conservation
Cape buffalo, by living in large herds and eating tall coarse grasses, 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.
- 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.
- Cape buffalo 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.
- The African buffalo, which is often confused with the Asian water buffalo, shares many of the same characteristics but is considered a separate species.
- 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.
- 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 injuried buffalo turning back and goring or killing the shooter.