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  • Writer's pictureBushwise Student

Lessons About Courage From The Wild

Updated: May 29

This blog about buffalo was written by Leah Deonath. Special topic blogs are written by Bushwise students during their course, and all facts included are based on their research.

Read time: 4 mins

Surviving the rinderpest catastrophe

The year 1889 marked a disastrous event that affected entire populations of both wildlife and people across Africa. The cause was a virus called rinderpest which came from cattle carrying the virus being brought in from India. Wild as well as domestic populations were ruined – with around 90% of all hooved animals dying. This led to famine together with the increase of thickets in grasslands. This in turn created a breeding ground for tsetse flies which in turn brought about an outbreak of sleeping sickness. One of the populations that was severely affected was the African buffalo (Syncerus caffer).

The African buffalo is a heavy, cattle-like mammal with massive horns. Some people refer to single male buffalo as “dagga boys” and they are known for their strong-willed, stubborn and resilient characteristics. If you could ask a lion how difficult it is to take one down, I’m most certain it would say something along the lines of, “It takes guts to take the buffalo by the horns. Literally.” 

The tenacious nature of ‘dagga boys’

Whilst working with Wildlife Act on an internship at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve, I remember watching a pride of four male lions trying to take down an old male buffalo. After seeing them fail numerous times, I was amazed by how a single buffalo at such an age was able to dodge and escape the claws of not one but four adolescent lions! 

Lion chasing a herd of buffaloes

Since it was quite late in the evening, we had to leave the next morning, we heard that the old guy took his last breath around 3am. Of course, it was inevitable, however, I still think about how long that buffalo held out. This is why I think of buffaloes in a new light; they don’t go down without a fight. They know that their life is worth fighting for, no matter the odds. 

Earning the title Black Death

As a member of Africa’s Big Five, buffaloes remain notorious for their aggressiveness and brutality towards humans. Buffaloes kill more hunters on the Africa than any other animal. Since they have good memories, they can hold a grudge and wait for their opportunity to charge as soon as they get a chance. 

Writer James Clarke tells the story of how his friend was mauled by a buffalo that had been shot 11 times. As it fell around 8 metres away from them, they assumed it was dead and proceeded to take a picture of the hunt. No one expected the dagga boy to suddenly get up and take his revenge before his own death. 

It is because of this tenacity and aggression that buffaloes have earned a name for themselves as the Black Death. The highest level of danger is when a buffalo is wounded or cornered, but I still wouldn’t want to bump into even a placid buffalo on foot. 

Game drive encounters

During my first ever game drive, the first animal I saw was a buffalo wallowing in a muddy pool. Mud baths help protect the skin against the sun and insects as well as cool down during scorching hot days. Buffaloes must drink regularly as they are incredibly dependent on water. They spend a huge amount of their time grazing. A master bull usually overlooks the herd which is led by an old female. Females have smaller, less developed horns compared to males. 

Buffaloes in a watering hole

Buffaloes are loyal animals that can protect, sympathise with and empathise with injured members of their herd. I really admire their devotion to one another, their strength and bravery. Even though buffaloes have a bad reputation, there are certain qualities they possess that are praiseworthy. 

Thankfully rinderpest was not able to fully eradicate the African buffalo. Not even a deadly virus could take these guys down completely. So next time you may be feeling defeated, think about our dagga boys out in the wild and charge courageously forward anyways. 

Ready to be inspired by Africa’s resilient wildlife? Join us out here at Bushwise and experience the untamed world for yourself.


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