Buffalo dynamics

Pamushana | March 2019

It is not uncommon to sit in Hwata blind and see dagga boys come to the pan and drink. Dagga boys are the old grumpy buffalo bulls who have left the ‘buzz’ of the breeding herd and often join bachelor herds of other old bulls. The name dagga boys refers to their habit of wallowing in the mud (dagga), mostly as a means of thermoregulation. These old guys are very confident in their grumpiness and often end up walking into the middle of the pan on a hot dry day.

The same cannot be said for the breeding herds of buffalo, who are often rather skittish when it comes to drinking water. I am sure it is because of the stress of having young buffalos with them and the unwanted attention that these youngsters bring in the form of predators like lions, hyenas and even leopards.

Breeding herds here normally vary in size from small herds of 50 to big herds of 400. But as the dry season progresses you get herds joining together to form huge herds of 600 or more. With such numbers in one group there is a definite need for some order, and a hierarchy is established not just among the males but also the females. It is a linear hierarchical system with females of similar ages holding the same rank. These females will determine where the herd moves for food, water and shade to rest and ruminate.

Bulls come into sexual maturity around the age of 8 years old and fight among each other for mating rights to the females. Typically bulls between 8 and 11 years are the resident ‘studs’ but that’s not to say one should write-off the dagga boys! I have watched these grumpy old males walk into a breeding herd and take up rank where they presumably left off when they retired from being in the breeding herd full-time.

Sitting in a place like Hwata blind, is a great way to observe these beasts and their social dynamics, but for some reason Hwata pan seems to be a quenching destination for only the bachelor herds of buffalo, so you can imagine our shock and excitement when this big breeding herd streamed in to the pan to drink.

Being this close to them was amazing because you begin to notice individual characteristics and characters, and you can’t help wonder what they are thinking when you see some of their facial expressions!