First you see a dust cloud, then a black band on the horizon, then hundreds of Cape buffalo all but block the light as they come to drink at the pan that’s home to our sunken photographic hide. They like to drink daily, but it’s not often that they graze in this area, so when they do inundate the small pan it gives you a brilliant opportunity to observe them at closer-than-would-otherwise-be-deemed-safe quarters, and to notice their individuality – those with enormous horns, curious eyes, attitudes of authority, irritation at oxpeckers, zen-induced expressions. The cautious, the bold, the tranquil, the playful. Of course it is a photographer’s dream to try and capture their portraits too:
Buffalo are highly social animals that form large herds, which can consist of hundreds of individuals. These herds are often led by a dominant female. We estimated this herd to have over 250 members.
In a scene of tranquillity like this it seems contradictory that these bovines are one of the "Big Five" - animals that are known for their unpredictable and aggressive behaviour, especially when threatened. A wounded buffalo is your worst nightmare. Even a single lion gives a buffalo a wide birth. That said they seem to be the favoured prey of lions, but it takes a pride, preferably including adult males, to bring a buffalo to ground. Even then all members of the pride need to watch their backs as buffaloes are known for their mobbing behaviour where they will confront predators.
The best chances of observing buffalo are around water sources. Apart from drinking they love to wallow in mud which helps to cool them, and provides a soothing, protective muddy layer against insects. They’re also surprisingly good swimmers and are known to cross rivers when they need to.
Being inside the hide it amplifies the sound they make, over and above the splashing, which is a cacophony of grunts, bellows, and even growls!