Bushveld Boxing Ring
Driving alongside a beautiful yet dense drainage line one afternoon on Kapama Game Reserve, my tracker Foster and I spotted the tracks of a large herd of buffalo. As part of the Big 5, our guests were excited at the prospect of seeing these huge bulls in their natural environment. We followed the tracks for some time and soon they led us down into a dry riverbed now filled with green grass. In the dry winter season, this is a much needed blessing for the grazers.
Not even five minutes went by, when we began hearing the grunting and horn clashing of the approaching herd. One by one they emerged in the open, happily munching along on the oasis of greenery. Without realizing it, we were completely surrounded by this incredible heard of buffalo. Our biggest challenge was deciding on which buffalo to look at as each one was doing something more interesting than the next.
Every activity, ranging from an old bull chasing a younger female around trying to mate, to a few calves suckling from their mothers, was playing out simultaneously before our eyes. Behind us, a commotion of horns clashing caught our attention. I repositioned the land cruiser to give my guests a better view of what was going on, trying my utmost not to disturb the the scene playing out in front of us.
Soon enough, two young males started play fighting and kicking up dust, creating an eerie scene in the soft afternoon light. After about ten minutes another pair joined in. Soon enough we had five pairs of young bulls facing each other, snorting and locking horns as they practiced their fighting abilities. It looked like a bushveld boxing ring. This play-fighting tactic is crucial for when the bulls need to dominate the older bulls to gain access to females. It is all about spreading their genes and ensuring the survival of their species.
Fighting amongst the African or Cape buffalo can be an aggressive and very noisy affair. The bulls are specially equipped with what is known as the “boss”. This is a hard, helmet like structure covering the head between the horns, which is meant to protect the brain and skull from the intense knocks as the bulls charge and collide with one another.
Due to the size of the herds, sometimes over a thousand strong, the buffalo have not one, but a few dominant males within the herd so competition is rife. These males are also expected to protect the herd from lion attacks. It typically can take several lions to bring down a single adult buffalo. So with great social organization, buffalo have been known to drive away prides by staying as a unit, with the bulls taking up the front and side positions, surrounding the slightly smaller females and calves.
We continued watching this wildlife scene for a while longer, learning more about the behaviour of these huge beasts.
Due to the now setting sun I maneuvered the vehicle slowly through the herd, allowing my guests to soak up all that we had witnessed over the past few minutes. Luckily the herd allowed me to pass by without any issues (our vehicle being much larger than them). I turned back to see the reaction of my guests, and their smiles said it all.
We continued on with our game drive in search of more animals willing to show us why we love Africa so much.
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