The Cape Buffalo may not be the fastest or most majestic of the Big 5 animals, but it made the club for a reason. Hopefully, you’ll soon find yourself siding favorably with these big guys, despite their occasional hotheadedness.
One of the reasons a buffalo may not catch your eye or ear could be the somewhat unappealing sounds they make. Most of these resemble grunts and mumbles with the occasion gargle. Delightful sounding isn’t it?
But these buffalo sounds, once better deciphered, will all serve to convince you that the buffalo is, in fact, a remarkable and underrated animal. In fact, a mere change in pitch and volume affects what they’re communicating.
So when planning your safari to Africa, you can now come well-prepared with all you need to know about Buffalo.
Bison and Buffalo – A Myth Debunked
This post will not be covering what sound a bison makes.
It is a common misconception that bison are the “American version “ of African (Cape) buffalo. While they are both horned, ox-like animals, there are a couple of indications to look out for when telling them apart.
First off, bison are found in North America and parts of Europe while The Cape buffalo live in Africa. A telltale difference is the large hump of muscle at the shoulders of the bison – not present on the buffalo.
These American, bull-like mammals also have much shorter, sharper horns compared to the long, thick horns of buffalo. And if all else fails, just try to spot the hipster with the beard – it’ll be the bison.
A Closer Look at Buffalo Sounds and What They Mean
These mighty creatures roam the sub-Saharan region of Africa by the thousands. And it’s interesting to note that buffalo noise is not just noise. It’s more often than not, indicative of a need or an expression of emotion.
This is what could be referred to as everyday language. It would be the “pass the salt” of conversing. In their case it’s perhaps, “this is my grass patch, go somewhere else”.
This form of communication is not easily heard on game drives or safaris. But nonetheless, it’s handy to know about as it often signals to a happy-ish buffalo. Or at least one that isn’t preparing to charge at any moment.
An important part of communication between females and their calves is gargling. Not the oral hygiene kind, however.
In this form of communication, a longer gargle is noteworthy. It is used to warn calves of impending danger. And also to help locate these younglings if they lose their way – it aids in guiding them back to the herd.
This communication is not only applicable to mothers and their own offspring, but between adult females and other calves too. Due to the herd mentality of these animals, females help one another out when it comes to motherly duties.
The most common buffalo sounds are short, loud grunts. These are a form of intimidation and stubbornness if you will. Buffalo have a reputation for wanting to get their own way. Hey, is knowing what you want such a bad thing?
A buffalo grunt is also handy for warning the rest of the herd about danger while simultaneously intimidating their predators.
If encountering a herd of grunting buffalo on your African safari, it would be advised to retreat. Loud, explosive grunts usually indicate high levels of anger and aggression.
Especially watch out for a group of grunting male buffalo, these levels of testosterone are certainly more volatile. African buffalo kill over 200 people a year, so encountering them does not come without a caution warning.
The commonly captured image of a buffalo usually shows them clad in mud with a bird perched somewhere. This is because the mud aids in preventing ticks and parasites from latching onto their skin.
The birds are, unfortunately, not just cute accessories. These feathered friends like oxpeckers eat off any lice, fleas, and parasites – in exchange for a free ride, of course.
Buffalo are far from wusses. In fact, all four kinds of African buffalo are very tough.
There is the forest buffalo, the West African savanna buffalo and the Central Africa savanna buffalo. They live and thrive in many habitats and environments. From semi-arid bushland to coastal savannas, even lowland rainforests.
They’re certainly easy to please with their only need being their proximity to a water source. And of course some delicious grass.
When they aren’t fighting off the occasional predator that chooses to mess with them, they’re chewing lots of grass. This pretty much sums up the diet of these herbivores. They are much like cows in the way they chew cud to further extract the nutrients.
Communication with Body Language
The jury is still out on the particulars of buffalo body language, but it is certainly an aspect of their communication. Females are known to charge if their young are threatened.
What has been noted is that buffalo attack rather suddenly and without warning. So keeping a respectable distance is important. They also like to display their sass and attitude by pointing their noses into the air.
Buffalo Behaviour When Threatened
Taking down a Cape Buffalo is regarded as a trophy for many big game hunters due to the sheer aggression and temper these animals display. Missing a shot at one of these big guys should send you running in the opposite direction.
Otherwise known as Black Death, they are infamous for being one of the most dangerous game to hunt and have killed more hunters than any other animals in Africa.
A buffalo is most aggressive when wounded or when sensing their young is in danger. They are known to circle their victim before viciously tearing them apart with their impressive horns.
Final Words on Buffalo
It’s safe to say these large mammals can be temperamental – but some may choose to call this passionate.
These family-orientated beasts are mostly misunderstood, and simply a little unphotogenic. So next time you are on safari in Africa and spot a buffalo, keep a respectable distance but be sure to admire them in all their heft and horned-glory.
While no one can claim to be fluent in buffalo, as of yet, it is safe to conclude that loud, short sounds are intended as a power move. When you hear quiet, longer mumbles you can interpret them as being friendly.