Just South African Stories: Cape Buffalo

Number 9 on the list of Africa’s deadliest animals—to human beings, that is—is the African buffalo. I mistakenly referred to them when I first saw them soaking in a deep watery wallow as water buffalo, but those guys live only in Asia.

The guys I saw in Kruger National Park, South Africa, were Syncerus caffer caffer, or Cape buffalo, a sub-species of the African buffalo. These bovine lumberers can weigh over 1 ton, and even though they are stocky and short, they aggressively attack and gore lions and humans when injured or threatened.

But they’re darn cute, if you are a fan of bovines, as I am.

On our first evening drive we passed by a large wallow, where a handful of Cape buffalo lazily rested in the water, cooling off after a hot day of grazing. They were accompanied by two Egyptian geese and several wood sand pipers who didn’t appear to be offended by their ominous company. Red-billed oxpeckers perched on their heads, dining on parasites.

The Daring Dixon, as he shall now be named, drove the Land Cruiser off the road and moved closer—but not too close.

Ears flicking away the flies, they soaked, looking cow-like with eyes half closed. The only really menacing thing about them were their thick bone brows and deeply curving horns. Superb for goring.

We drove on to see other wonders that over-top the Cape buffalo in curiosity and grandeur: lions, elephants and rhinos. But the next drive showed us more Cape buffalo than we had seen before.

After another wild drive when Dixon got a walkie-talkie message from a colleague, we came upon a herd of roughly fifty or more buffalo, mostly females and a few big, wary males. They were on the move, headed south east into the bush, grazing the vast volumes of grass they require to keep them alive. Because of their bulk, or maybe as a result of their bulk, they can eat and digest a wide variety of fodder.

While we snapped photos and focused binoculars, Dixon told us a story.

He has been an experienced guide for most of his life. This included guiding walking safaris. I prefer the safety of a big truck, but many such tours are offered throughout sub-Saharan Africa, generally including an armed guide. He was taking a group through a dense area, some kind of forest or jungle, when he heard a noise that made his hair stand on end. Invisible in the underbrush was a Cape buffalo, who had probably either heard the party or had caught a whiff of their scent. Dixon stopped his group. He had no armed guide with him, and he knew that they couldn’t outrun the buffalo. He felt instinctively that the buffalo was somewhere ahead of them along the trail.

Picking up a rock, he had to wait only a few seconds before the sound of hooves thundered toward them. As the dark shape appeared, Dixon threw his rock.

This is where the story becomes not as believable as we would have liked, but Daring Dixon claimed he killed that buffalo. Stunned, maybe, long enough for an escape, but if Dixon’s throw was that good, it was a very lucky one. Judging from the impressive crown of bone these guys wear, I think they would be very difficult to kill with a rock. A high-powered rifle, like the one Ernest Hemingway or John Huston must have used, would do the trick.

It’s hard to see why these cattle-like creatures could be so dangerous, and that big game hunters would find them so valuable for their Big 5 list. It’s a relief to be living in an age where the rifle has been replaced by a camera.

I want to give a shout out to our home-grown wild bovid, B bison. The American bison can grow even heavier than the Cape buffalo, well over 1 ton. Their innate weapons are ramming and hind-leg kicking, sufficient to kill almost anything. Funny how I have a deep love and respect for them, but never thought of them as dangerous.



About Jill Zeller

Author of numerous novels and short stories, Jill Zeller is a Left Coast writer, 2nd generation Californian, retired registered nurse, and obsessed gardener. She lives in Oregon with her patient husband, 2 silly English mastiffs and 2 rescue cats—the silliest of all. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination are as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison


Just South African Stories: Cape Buffalo — 2 Comments

  1. I remember quite clearly in my youth looking out car windows at a small herd of B bison milling across the road, and my father saying firmly “Don’t tap on the windows.” Although I love the taste of bison, it would be no small feat to hunt one.

    Love the photos!