There are two buffalo types in Uganda, the common Cape Buffalo (Syncerus caffer caffer) and Forest Buffalo (Syncerus caffer nanus). The latter are currently only found in the Virungas and elsewhere in the forests, mostly lowland, of Africa.
The well known Cape buffalo is one of the iconic species of Africa and unlike its Asian cousins has never been tamed or domesticated. Its reputation as a large fierce animal with curvaceous horns made it a favourite target of rich western game hunters who liked to adorn their homes with trophies. The more utilitarian African hunted it for meat and hides.
It is only aggressive if it is under threat. It is therefore wise to keep a safe unobtrusive distance as they are easily spooked. Park rangers on patrol are normally armed in self-defence against them. More people die in Uganda from confrontations with them than any other animal, with the possible exception of the hippopotamus.
Buffalos in the Virungas appear to be smaller, shyer, more nocturnal and move around in smaller herds. The forest species is about half the size of the savannah species; its average height and weight are 120cm/ 4ft and 300kg/660lb. They are generally red-brown in colour with darker and lighter patches that remain in adulthood. In general their horns curve up and back but local variants are also possible.
They are strict herbivores and graze in open grassy areas and on young shoots, saplings and leaves in the open sections of the forest. Closed canopy forest is probably avoided due to a lack of ground vegetation. In common with all other buffalo it needs water daily and never strays far from a reliable water source.
Buffalos can often be found around human areas, if they feel safe. Humans and large carnivores are the most common predators; though their population is controlled more by total food availability than predation. One of their favoured food sources is farm crops and they can devastate a field in no time.
Illustration: Martin Aijuka Depories
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