Buffalo, the classic breed

Buffalo is truly the classic breed

Buffalos can be unpredictable and extremely dangerous when cornered or wounded.

This statement reminds me of what is often the sentiment regarding the wildlife industry: unpredictable, extremely dangerous… Although most common among outsiders, this fear is, upon reflection, quite real.  Being involved in the wildlife industry presents the same exhilaration and true danger as a buffalo encountered on foot.

In contrast, for a serious game farmer or investor in the game industry, buffalos continue to be a stable, classic, blue-chip investment.

The Cape buffalo, scientifically known as Syncerus Caffer, is beautifully wild and unpredictable and very dangerous. I love how when I peek through a boma window, a buffalo cow protective of her calf, lowers her head, paws at the dust and lets me know I better stay on my side of the fence. These moms are serious about their off-spring and they can make good on their threatening promise of demise!

Buffalo remains one of the most sought-after hunting trophies in Africa: a true African gem. During the 18th century (per Deon Furstenburg’s Game Species Window), buffalo was ranked second only to eland in having the largest distribution in Africa. South of the Zambezi River it was the most abundant game species.

Early European settlers are said to have adopted buffalo as their favourite meat when settling in the Cape. During this time buffalo were hunted irrespective of their genetic superiority and mainly for the quantity of meat that could be obtained. It follows that many of the animals with the biggest horns did not survive. It also explains why the horns of the biggest South African buffalo currently measure only 55”, compared to the 60”+ Rowland Ward records recorded in the late 1800s. Our buffalo breeding industry of today is therefore breeding towards what used to be 100% natural.


The business side of buffalo breeding

Amidst exciting and sometimes scary volatility in the market, quality buffalo as well as superior genetics, continue to attract good prices. Buffalos such as these warrant the reference to a blue chip investment opportunity. A stable and sustainable buffalo hunting industry, as well as the portion of the market purely in love with the magic of the African buffalo, continue to provide buffalo breeders with their reason for existence.

There is no reason to believe this will change in the near future. Interest in both the South African hunting and breeding industries continue to expand and buffalos are always in the mix. (Read more about 2015 buffalo price trends and the solid return on investment you can expect from the species in our follow-up article next month.)

Of course, as any seasoned breeder will tell you, there are no shortcuts when breeding with buffalo. It takes time to breed the 10-15% that is seen to be exceptional animals. Before you can sell your buffalo, there are many considerations to take into account.
Buffalo must be tested for various state controlled diseases such as tuberculosis, corridor disease, foot-and-mouth disease and brucellosis, before veterinarian approval is given for translocation. The test results are released up to three to four weeks after testing and are then valid for 60 days from the day of testing. Tests can only be done with a minimum of 90 day intervals between tests. The cost of a test package is around R 3 500 per buffalo and there are a limited number of reliable testing facilities in South Africa.

It is crucial to be 100% sure of test results in order to maintain a disease free herd. Since buffalo are susceptible to external factors such as contaminated cattle, plains game and veld, keeping a closed herd and testing regularly is a prudent approach.

Breeding strategy

When choosing your breeding strategy, it is important to remember that not all buffalo are created equal. You have to ensure that you bring the right genetics into your herd at the right time. Like with any species, hunters and top game breeders all have different preferences. Ultimately, beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.

Some prefer a deep curl, a horn dropping low before it curls back up, but not too early. This is most commonly associated with the Lowveld bloodline. Others like a steady, more even drop and exceptionally wide horns, most commonly associated with the East African bloodline. Most breeders prefer perfect symmetry and for a strong masculine look, horn mass is important. It is therefore up to the breeder to select for those qualities he or she prefers, or perceives the market to demand.

Hunters look specifically at established trophy hunting measurement methods. Whilst Rowland Ward (RW) predominantly measures the spread (the straight-line width between the two widest points of the horns), Safari Club International (SCI) gives more weight to the entire length of the horn measured along the curve, in this way favouring a deeper curl. We believe the key is in the balance. And this, makes breeding with buffalo all the more exciting.


Ideal habitat

According to Furstenburg, the most important habitat requirements for buffalo are abundant tall, sweet grass species, ample surface water and sufficient shrub and trees for refuge. Vast, open, grassy plains lacking woody shelter are usually avoided and favourable habitat is more closely associated with riverine valleys, marshlands, sub-tropical woodlands and broadleaf forests.
A hugely important habitat factor is mud-baths. For buffalo, mud cover on the skin regulates body temperature. It enables an animal to tolerate temperatures up to 40° C and repels eco-parasites and flies.

In closing

Breeding with the classic Cape buffalo remains every game breeder’s dream. Those brave and patient enough to take on the challenge are rewarded with a classic return on investment!

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