【Species Account】Syncerus caffer

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African buffalo is in the least concern in terms of red list category in 2008. More than 70 percent of buffalos are conserved in national parks in each countries. In the future, they will face a risk of extinction depending on human activities since poaching and hunting are increasing in the national parks (IUCN SSC Antelope Specialist Group, 2008). 


Syncerus caffer has four subspecies which are Forest Buffalo (S. c. nanus)West African Savanna Buffalo (S. c. brachyceros), Central African Savanna Buffalo (S. c. aequinoctialisand Southern Savanna Buffalo (S. c. caffer). The common name is African Buffalo. In terms of taxonomy, African Buffalo comes from kingdom, Animalia, Chordate, Mammalia, Cetartiodactyla, and Bovidae (IUCN SSC Antelope Specialist Group, 2008). Genus is Synceris and species is Caffer (Cape buffalo, 2006). The size of Cape buffalo is about 1.5m at the shoulder and they have over 680kg. They distribute central, eastern and southern Africa. The Forest buffalo is smaller than the Cape buffalo in terms of height at the shoulder, which is about 1.2m and its weight is about 180kg. Literary, it lives in forest area of Africa (Curtin Charles, 2014). Whereas other buffalos live in savanna area, the forest buffalo inhabits the western rain forest area. Moreover, there are less information about the forest buffalo than other subspecies (Mario, et all, 2007). 

Geographic Range 

The African buffalo inhabits in sub-Sahara Africa. This species prefer a place where is a high water availability (Megaze, Belay, Balakrishnan, 2013). Cape buffalo can be seen mainly in southern Africa, and the number of population is about 29,300 in Botswana, 48,200 in Zimbabwe, 2,800 in Namibia, and 31,500 in South Africa (Winterbach, 1998). Cape buffalo distributes in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and more countries; however, its distributions are restricted by habitat selection. One of the causes is also water availability. In dry season, African buffalo are restricted in places where water is available to them. Hence, they usually move between moist areas and grasses grounds, and it can be a long distance (Bennitt, Bonyongo, Harris, 2014). As to a long range migration, marked buffalos which are in the Kwando river floodplains moved about 87 km to the Caprive Strip in the dry season. The buffalos overall traveled about 170 km to go back to the same area. In the rainy season, they took a different way from the dry season. They went to Botswana before going back to the same place (Naidoo, et all, 2014). When buffalos walk around for food in abundant grasses area, they do not move such a long distance instead they migrate a short distance. In contrast, when they move a long distance, it suggests that the land does not suit for them.  (Emily, Casper, Stephen, 2015).  In addition, annual precipitation has a huge relation with buffalos. For instance, in a place where annually has rain less than 500 mm, buffalos are absent (Christoph, 2015). 

General Description 

Cape buffalo, syncerus caffer, has huge horns which are curved out. Their ears are hidden by the horns, and they are also large. As mentioned above section, buffalos regularly move a long distance; therefore, their body is covered by a thin hide to endure such a harsh travel. In terms of body length, adult one is going to be between 2 to 3 meters, and about 1 meter is for their tails. Their horns are about 0.5 to 1 meter. Due to the size of body, their weight is about 75 kilograms for male, and for female, their weight is about 473 kilograms (Cape buffalo. 2006). In addition to weight, there are other characteristics to distinguish males form femalesA hump can be seen only in males. The horns of females tend to be smaller than males’. While Cape buffalo have a large body size, Syncerus caffer nanus, which is Forest buffalo are much smaller subspecies. They are just about 105 cm from shoulder to toes, and their weight is less than 250 to 320 kg (Christoph, 2015)The difference between Syncerus caffer and Syncerus caffer nanus is only in the size; therefore, it is difficult to distinguish them by the appearance (Curtin, 2014).  


The use of habitat is different in sex. For example, small female buffalos tend to occupy abundant grasses area. In contrast, larger males use less food availability areas (Halley, Mari, 2004). They usually make two different types of groups. The one includes both sex and all age buffalos, and another one is a herd only for males called bachelor herds. The size of these groups is different depending on subspecies. In the case of Forest buffalo, if the herd is close to grass areas and river, the population can be more than 100. Young males which are member of bachelor group go back and force between bachelor group and mixed sex group which is a larger group than the other. (Christoph, 2015). In the mixed herd, there is a hierarchy among adult male buffalos, and old bulls are excluded from the group (Hamerton, 2016). 


African buffalo eat grasses and forages. It means they are herbivorous (Buffalo, 2016). Buffalos spend most of their time to eat food. After feeding grasses, it is important for them to chew their cud to obtain enough nutrients from food. In terms of predation, since their body size is large and they tend to be aggressive it is hard for predators to feed buffalos (Christoph, 2015). The major predators of African buffalo are lions and humans (Buffalo, 2016). They have several ways to protect themselves from predators. For example, forming a herd is the one of them. It helps to maintain each individual unity. Another way is flight and reciprocal aggression. African buffalo observe dangerous areas to notice predators. This is a response to threat (Christoph, 2015). 


The rainy season is the best suitable time for African buffalo to breed. After 11 months since they mate, the offspring is reproduced by the next rainy season (Cape buffalo. 2006). In January, the number of birthing is going to be higher than any other months (Ryan, Knechtel, Getz, 2007). The reason why they mate during the rainy season is that in the season, more food is available to females to make enough milk for babies (Cape buffalo. 2006).  


The number of African buffalo is decreasing today due to climate change and human activities. It leads to less genetic diversity, and a potential of evolution will decrease. In the past, African buffalo moved a long distance between one population and another to conduct interbreeding. Today, the area they can live is decreasing due to habitat fragmentation, and this leads to gene erosion.  (Heller, Okello, Siegismund, 2010).  

Moreover, African buffalo suffered from epidemic diseases in the 19th century (Smitz, et all, 2014). Rinderpest wiped out most buffalos. The epidemics occurred many times until most recently 1996 and collapsed buffalo’s populations (Wenink, et all, 1998). In 1990, only 400,000 buffalo survived (Van Hooft, Groen, Prins, 2002). Although the diseases were high molarity rates, they had little effects on genetic diversity. However, African buffalo have the least population diversity of all other large animals in Africa. Therefore, it is concluded that gene flows occurred among African buffalo in the past (Smitz, et all, 2014).  


Afrieanastrongyius giganlicus which is known as large ostertagiine nematodes can be found in African buffalo. The size is about 15 to 19 mm in length. (Hoberg, brams, Pilitt, 2010). Furthermore, foot-and-mouth called FMD can be found in African buffalo, and buffalos also maintain SAT serotype of FMD within their body (Wekesa, et all, 2015). Bovine tuberculosis is also common among African buffalo, which helps BTB as a host of the disease. It is an infectious disease and has a long term effect on from humans to most wildlife species. (Le Roex, et all, 2013). 


Literature Cited

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Hamerton D. Syncerus caffer (African buffalo). Biodiversity Explorer; [accessed 2016 Apr 14].http://www.biodiversityexplorer.org/mammals/ruminantia/syncerus_caffer.htm

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Hoberg EP, Abrams A, Pilitt PA. 2010. A New Species of Trichostrongyloid in African Buffalo(Syncerus Caffer) (Artiodactyla: Bovinae) from Uganda. Journal of Parasitology 96: p129136.

IUCN SSC Antelope Specialist Group. 2008. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008;[accessed 2016 Mar 20]. http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/21251/0

Le Roex N, Koets A. P, van Helden P. D, Hoal E. G. 2013. Gene Polymorphisms in African BuffaloAssociated with Susceptibility to Bovine Tuberculosis Infection. PLoS ONE 8: p1–6.

Mario M, Vincenzo P, Marzia M, Luigi B. 2007. Some Behavioral Aspects of Forest Buffalo(Syncerus caffer nanus): From Herd to Individual.Journal of Mammalogy 88:p1312–1318.

Megaze A, Belay G, Balakrishnan M. 2013. Population structure and ecology of the African buffalo(Syncerus caffer Sparrman, 1779) in Chebera Churchura National Park, Ethiopia. AfricanJournalof Ecology 51:p393–401.

Naidoo R, Du Preez P, Stuart-Hill G, Beytell P, Taylor R. 2014. Long-range migrations anddispersals ofAfrican buffalo (Syncerus caffer) in the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation area.African Journal of Ecology 52:p581–584.

Ryan SJ, Knechtel GU, Getz WM. 2007. Ecological cues, gestation length, and birth timing in Africanbuffalo (Syncerus caffer).Behavioral Ecology 18:p1–10.

Smitz N, Chardonnet D, Caron A, de Garine-Wichatitsky M, Jori F, Mouton A, Latinne A, PigneurL-M,Melletti M, Kanapeckas KL, et al. 2014. Genetic structure of fragmented southern populations ofAfrican Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer caffer).BMC Evolutionary Biology14 : p2–39.

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Van Hooft F. W, Groen F. A, Prins T. H. 2002. Phylogeography of the African buffalo based onmitochondrial and Y-chromosomal loci: Pleistocene origin and population expansion of theCape buffalo subspecies. Molecular Ecology 11:p267–279.

Wekesa S. N, Sangula A. K, Belsham G. J, Tjornehoj K, Muwanika V. B, Gakuya F, Mijele D,Siegismund H. R. 2015. Characterisation of recent foot-and-mouth disease viruses from Africanbuffalo (Syncerus caffer) and cattle in Kenya is consistent with independent virus populations.BMC Veterinary Research 11:p1–15.

Wenink, Groen, Roelke-parker, Prins, Groen. 1998. African buffalo maintain high genetic diversityin the major histocompatibility complex in spite of historically knownpopulationbottlenecks. Molecular Ecology 7:p1315–1322.

Winterbach HEK. 1998. The status and distribution of Cape buffalo Syncerus caffer caffer insouthern Africa. South African Journal of Wildlife Research 28:p82.