Buffalo midwifery

Sabi Sand | March 2020

It was a beautiful morning, the sun was shining, birds were singing, it was like a paradise, everywhere we looked it was alive and all seemed at peace.

It was one of those panoramic game drives, along the river, getting to high vantage points to enjoy the landscape and talking about why certain animals prefer certain areas to others when a very large herd of buffaloes happened upon us.

They were spread out all over the place, old, young, bulls, cows – all were there. Many different bird species were following these animals as they moved along towards a watering hole for a drink. It was a magnificent atmosphere for all the creatures just to interact together and benefit from one another’s presence.

Scanning the animals through a set of binoculars, one animal stood out immediately, she appeared to be restless, moving around and lying down for short periods of time and vocalizing constantly. I thought maybe she was having trouble dealing with flies until I saw a pair of tiny hooves sticking out of her behind! I then realized with excitement that we were about to witness a rare sighting of a buffalo giving birth. The buzz of excitement ran through everyone in the vehicle.

All the other buffaloes were milling around and seemed unfazed about it. She lay down one more time and that was it, she could not get up, you could almost see the pain in her horned face which under normal circumstances would give no indication of what was going on.

She started pushing hard and we mindfully cheered her on. After about five minutes the baby buffalo just popped out! The mom was up in a flash and started cleaning her new calf with her tongue, at the same time that it was already surging to get up, which happened after a few falls.As soon as the baby was up, mom just turned and walked off and the calf had to wobble along to try and keep up. A thought came to mind, who was the dad and where was he? As I looked around I saw all the males were busy chasing the females for yet another baby to be born with no father to look up to.

I was grateful to be human at that moment.

Photo by Ross Couper