The Mighty Buffalo – Article by Gareth Jones
NAIROBI BUFFALO HERDS – BY GARETH JONES
Some years ago, as I rounded a bend in the Langata forest, the road was full of buffalo. There were so many, from tiny calves to cows to young bulls to old bulls, what a scene! I estimated there were at least 400 in the herd. Most of them were resting in a peaceful forest glade, while many of them that already crossed the road, headed into the thick bush.
Suddenly I heard a series of alarmed bellows and grunts, followed by the sound of many hooves running back towards to same road they had just crossed, I reacted quickly and managed to take a series of photos, just as a black rhino burst into a clearing, and continued to charge into the buffalo herd. The buffalo did everything possible to get out of the way, as the rhino crossed the road and ran onward through the middle of the resting buffalo in the glade. Amazingly it seemed that no buffalo were injured, and afterwards the black rhino continued to walk on in the same glade, almost casually as if nothing much had happened.
Wow!!! What a sight I had just witnessed, my guess is that the black rhino was resting and the buffalo surprised it as they walked onwards. Black rhino do not seem to know the meaning of the word “fear”, it was an unforgettable sight to see the rhino charge at a herd of over 400 stunned buffalo, and then also interesting to see that the buffalo seemed to know how to behave when the “ moody grumpy rhino” is around.
Unlike the larger white rhino, the smaller black rhino can be very aggressive at times especially when threatened or provoked, and can be unpredictable.
After the rains last year, the view over the wonderfully green Athi basin beneath us was looking stunning, after much rain in the past months the vegetation has grown thick and lush. In the distance the telltale shape of hundreds of large black dots was visible, we knew that they were buffalo and drove to where they were. They were really having a feast or a “bovine fine dine” so to speak, we watched them for a while as they went down to the Athi dam to drink!
Then we witnessed a very unusual event, a number of the buffalo were very interested in the remains of the ribcage of an antelope and even licked the carcass. Osteophagy is the practice in which animals, usually herbivores, consume bones. Most vegetation around the world lacks sufficient amounts of phosphate. Phosphorus is an essential mineral for all animals, as it plays a major role in the formation of the skeletal system, and is necessary for many biological processes including: energy metabolism, protein synthesis, cell signaling, and lactation. Phosphate deficiencies can cause physiological side effects, especially pertaining to the reproductive system, as well as side effects of delayed growth and failure to regenerate new bone. The importance of having sufficient amounts of phosphorus further resides in the physiological importance of maintaining a proper phosphorus to calcium ratio. So I believe that they benefit from the mineral nutrients in the bones of animal carcasses.
Next time you are in the park, and you see a herd of buffalo close by, watch them for a while, maybe you might also witness the unusual behavior known as osteophagy when herbivores like buffalo lick or gnaw bones for nutrients.
Sometimes it is really great to drive slowly and quietly into the middle of a herd of buffalo, and then switch off the engine, and sit watching from a very close position. I do not think there are many places in Africa where such large herds of buffalo are tolerant enough to stand at such a close distance to vehicles. It was really great to watch the various interactions between the buffalo, and also the many birds like oxpeckers and egrets that follow them.
However do not be deceived, Buffalo are very dangerous when provoked, and many hunters have been hunted and even killed by their prey, especially if the buffalo was wounded. A buffalo bull can weigh up to 910kg and has formidable horns that form a thick boss, that can even stop a high velocity bullet.
In the Nairobi Park, buffalo are at times hunted by lions, however due to the fact that there are not large prides in the park, buffalo lion kills are rare. Also there are a number of recorded sightings over the years where a buffalo herd has actually chased lions up trees for some hours. More recently, a few months ago some people observed and recorded a herd of buffalo trapping a young lion on top on the junction No 4 signpost, the lion snarled for a while in a bold attempt to defend itself and was only able to escape, then 2 more lions distracted the large buffalo herd for a moment.
So try something different, visit the Nairobi National Park, and find a buffalo herd, hopefully next to the road, then approach carefully, and enjoy God’s creation close-up.
The park is open daily from 06h00 to 19h00.