The African buffalo (Syncerus Gaffer) is traditionally known as the meanest beast in the bush, prone to launch a killing charge at the drop of a hat. It is an understandable reaction if one is being shot at, and solitary males are loath to be disturbed. But the majority of buffalos in cow-calf herds are nearly as docile as cattle.
There is the one main species, a very large blackpelted, grassland dweller, weighing up to 800 kilograms (1,764 pounds); one subspecies, the forest buffalo (S. c. nanus) which is smaller, reddish, with less robust horns; and at least two intermediate forms, S. c. aequinoctialis and S. c. brachyceros, found in grassland areas where large forests merge with grasslands. In East Africa, however, animals seen in forest clearings, or along grassy road verges, will certainly be African buffalos.
Buffalos in general favour open grassland, wooded grassland and bushed grassland. They are most active in evening, night and early morning, both for feeding and moving from place to place. The rest of their time is spent lying down and ruminating, in shade, if available, rather like cows in a field. Buffalos must drink daily, so are never found more than 15 kilometres (nine miles) from water. As with domestic cattle buffalo probably sleep not more than an hour a day.
The massive, bossed horns and exceptional size of the animal afford considerable protection. This has allowed blind, lame, even three-legged individuals to survive longer than could have been expected. Solitary bulls, without the redoubtable protection of numbers, commonly fall prey to prides of lions. It is not uncommon, though, for lions to be fatally injured during a prolonged battle with a wounded buffalo. A buffalo herd, when in danger of attack by lions, will form a defensive semicircle, protected by bulls on the other flank, with the cows and calves grouped in the centre of the formation. Delicate morning mist makes for a peaceful setting in the Maasai Mara.
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