Initially, it looked like we had stumbled upon a buffalo bull and his missus in the throes of passion, but as we got a closer look it turned out that there wasn’t a missus in sight! One big bull was mounting a less mature bull while the rest of the herd went about their buffalo business, grazing and lazing around… Until a second bull joined the unusual display and began connecting his horns with the submissive bull.
This is behaviour seen more often in elephant bulls looking to assert their dominance, but nature is endlessly surprising, and one can never assume to know all its secrets. Here, Africa on Foot and nThambo Tree Camp guests got to witness something different.
The well known behaviour in buffalo dominance contests involves two similarly matched bulls taking a run at each other, heads raised and then bowed in the last second, ready to receive the impact of a collision. It is brutal to watch, but bulls are equipped with extremely solid helmets where the base of their horns have fused on their heads. These are designed to receive the impact of a full charge, which has been compared to a 60km/h collision with a brick wall! This full charge is an ultimate show of dominance, but usually the contest is settled after much more passive behaviour between the 2 bulls, involving head tossing, circling each other to display their size, and submissive bulls lowering their heads under the dominant bull’s belly.
Herds have an internal hierarchy system, which is constantly changing especially in large herds. When food is plentiful, herds split into subunits which are made up of related family members. When food is more sparse, big herds stick together, and form separate dominance hierarchies among the males and females, while bulls always dominate cows. Females move up in rank when they have a calf, which brings the privilege of moving to the front of the herd and feeding on the best grass. Males determine hierarchy given their age and size, and therefore, their fighting ability.
The Klaserie and its numerous dams and waterholes get frequent visits from many buffalo herds, and the lions in the reserve have adapted to feeding primarily on these big bovines. This sighting, however, has moved to the top of the list of ‘most unusual safari sightings‘!