Going out into the bush those Land Rover Defenders was much more exciting than I had ever imagined. Personally, I had packed too much stuff. The rooms in the lodge had choices of insect repellant, sun block, sun hats, lip balm, wonderfully soft and friendly ponchos that made us feel like Jedi, flashlights, notebooks to record the wisdom of our guides and trackers, as well as the usual variety of hotel conveniences. And best of all, the hotel was very green. They planted their own vegetables, made their own cheese, ice cream and wonderful bread.
We tried hard not to eat all three breakfasts that were offered, and save ourselves for the gourmet lunches, but we weren’t successful every day because their bread and croissants were irresistible. Of course that variety of warm, interesting bread was also served with lunch and dinner, so there was no real excuse to have three breakfasts. We were offered a light breakfast before we went out in the morning. When the sun came up, the guide and tracker stopped the vehicle and set up a very nice coffee and hot chocolate break, with bread, of course, and fresh fruit and dried fruit. That’s when we made a bush stop. J.P., the guide, would give us a little bag that contained toilet paper, paper bags for used toilet paper, alcohol for our hands, hand moisturizer and probably some other things that I can’t remember. It worked well.
I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about seeing the Cape buffalo, but I was pleasantly surprised. They are very different from the American bison, which we often call buffalo – they are simply magnificent! Big game hunters included them in their list of the The Big Five because they are very dangerous to hunt. When hunted and wounded by our species, they often circle back and counter attack the person who wounded them. Cape buffalo have another tactic, and sometimes ambush hunters who have attacked them. Most of us know the saying that an elephant never forgets. Well, in Africa they say a buffalo never forgives. They stick together in herds, and seem to know that there is strength in numbers. You can see lots of You Tubes showing what they can do to lions that try to attack them. As a matter of fact, they sometimes go after lion cubs and kill them as a preventative measure. Native Africans sometimes refer to Cape Buffalo as the Black Death.
The most interesting part of the Cape buffalo is their horns. They are fused in the middle, so that they have sort of a shield across the top of their heads. It takes about 10 years for the horns to reach full size and harden. Statistically, they gore and kill about 200 people every year. As you can guess, they are unpredictable, and therefore have never been domesticated like Asian water buffalo. Their predators, aside from big game hunters, are lions, hyenas and crocodiles.
Cape buffalo reach shoulder heights of up to 1.5 meters and weigh an average of 750 kilos. Both sexes have horns, which I think is only fair. In spite of being so ferocious, they are vegetarians. They eat a lot of grass, and are generally more interested in quantity than quality. They can digest taller and coarser grass easier than most other ruminants, and this leaves the more delicate grass for species that have less efficient digestive systems. They are sensitive to the heat, and like to stay in the shade for much of the day, feeding mostly at night. They always stay near water and drink up to 40 liters a day. They supplement their diet by licking termite mounds in order to obtain minerals. Cape buffalos also like to lie in water or mud, especially the males. Lions sometimes spend hours lying in wait near buffalo watering holes, hoping to catch a buffalo off guard. That isn’t easy, because buffalos will not always run away, but instead will form a group around their young while the older members of their herd and stand ground against the lions. This involves tossing the lions into the air, goring them, and then stomping on them. All in all, they spend about 18 hours a day foraging and moving. Cape buffalos do not have very good eyesight, but their hearing and smell are exceptional.
And they are very vocal. They call out to each other as a signal for the herd to move, they have special sounds that signals for the herd to change directions, they advise other members of the herd that they are moving to a drinking place, and have a special sound when they are looking for their calves. Calves have a special high-pitched call when they feel they are in trouble. And of course all dominant males have a loud call to announce their presence. Even when grazing, they bellow, honk and croak. The buffalo noise we need to know is their aggressive sound: they make explosive grunts that turn into a low, rumbling growl. That is our invitation to quickly climb a very sturdy tree.
As a group, they practice democracy. When they are ready to travel, they stand and turn in the direction they want to go. If enough of the herd turn one way, that’s the way they go. The dominant female will lead them in the winning direction. They also practice group grooming, and lie down with their chins resting on each other’s backs and shoulders, playing with each other’s ears as if they were puppies. They are one of the few ruminants that lie while touching each other. They are also very protective of each other; they protect the young, injured and older members of the herd. When they are in unfamiliar territory or sensing a threat, a herd will surround the calves and weak members, and face outward to ward off whatever is coming. They fight off attacking lion prides, and occasionally, if a single lion, hyena or wild dog comes close, they will chase it and kill it just for the fun of it.
They are not, however, particularly democratic about mating, at least not according to human culture. Sex is competitive. They have a male dominance hierarchy, which determines which bulls breed. It takes a bull about 8 years to fight his way high enough to be allowed to mate. Then, when the dominant bulls are around 14, a younger bull will push them aside. The bulls know when a cow is in heat by regularly sniffing female genitals and urine. When a female is in heat, the bulls lay their chins on her rump.
The stronger and more mature bulls use simple force to keep the younger or older and weaker bulls away from the desirable females. They spar with their competitors by pushing, shoving and showing strength, but almost never gore another buffalo. They have to do all this while trying to keep the desired female close. Generally speaking, mating occurs between March and May, and their gestation period lasts for around 11 months. Cape buffalo are good mothers, and all members of the herd will help to take care of the calves if necessary.
These older bulls that are not allowed to mate anymore end up staying on the outskirts of the herd and forming small groups, or sometimes they just keep to themselves. Interestingly, these older males begin to lose the hair on their rumps, and eventually go bald on this part of their bodies. Their bald hindquarters make them susceptible to sunburn, and they begin to spend a lot of time in mud holes. The Zulu people call these frustrated old guys “dagga boys” as dagga is the Zulu word for mud. Dagga boys are particularly aggressive and they are the ones that carry out most of the buffalo attacks against our species. The average life span of a buffalo is 26 years.
Our guide, J.P., loved birds and studied them seriously. His enthusiasm was contagious. There are approximately 900 bird species in South Africa, and that represents 10% of the world’s total bird species. One of the birds J.P. pointed out to us was the one pictured below, an oxpecker. There are two kinds of oxpeckers, but the only difference between them is the color of their bills. The one in the picture is a red-billed oxpecker, and the other one is yellow-billed. We saw them not only on buffalo, but also on antelope, elephants and rhinos. These little birds feed off the ticks, lice, flies and fleas that are imbedded in these large animals. They even remove these things from nostrils, ears and those other regions we won’t mention here. Both creatures benefit, but it is thought that the oxpeckers benefit more.
It goes without saying that native Africans consider the buffalo a symbol of strength and bravery. We learned the tribal chiefs used to be presented with Cape buffalo horns in recognition of their supreme authority.
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Blackberries – Blueberries – Raspberries – Strawberries Nutritious food is nourishing and efficient as food in the sense that it gives you the sufficient amount of nutrients such as vitamins, carbohydrates and proteins that you need to survive. Healthy food is food that promotes good health, in other words, prevents illness and keeps you younger longer. I. All of the berries above are healthy and nutritious. However, according to nutritional content, total carbohydrates,…