The African or Cape Buffalo is not likely to win many beauty contests. But what it lacks in beauty, it more than makes up for in viciousness. Cape buffalo are among the famous "Big 5," animals particularly prized by hunters because they were so dangerous – and, presumably, showed the hunter's great courage as he shot them from a distance with a high-powered rifle. (The other members of the Big 5 are elephants, lions, leopards and rhinoceros.) Reportedly, a buffalo that is the only wounded will circle around and begin to stalk the hunter, waiting for an opportunity to charge the hunter and gore him with its sharp horns.
Under any circumstances, Cape buffalo are best given wide berth. Despite their placid, cow-like appearance, Cape buffalo (according to some) are responsible for more human deaths in Africa than any other large animal (though some say that hippos are the most dangerous while others argue for crocodiles).
Buffalo congregate in herds that can exceed several hundred members. They spend most of the day and night grazing. Older males will often leave the herd and spend their remaining days as solitary wanderers. Without the protection of the herd, many of these lone bulls fall prey to lions. Although buffalo can reach top speeds of 35 mph (56 kph) and can outrun lions if given a head start, they are slow to accelerate and are thus vulnerable to the ambush tactics of the pride. In both Chobe National Park in Botswana and Ruaha National Park in southern Tanzania, we saw a buffalo that had been killed by lions. The buffalo in Ruaha, however, did not go down without a fight. He apparently managed to gore and kill a young lion before succumbing himself. (For more photos of the lions feeding on the buffalo, go to the Lions Feeding page.)