The sheer prowess of Cape buffalo in a large herd causes a nervous curiosity. Drawn to them like a warthog to a mud wallow, some of my most memorable moments in the bush have been spent around these potentially aggressive bovines. There is always a sense of the unknown; with so many individuals in one group (herds in the area occasionally reach 1000 members) there is bound to be some sort of surprise waiting for you. Different shapes, sizes and ages as well as very different temperaments lead to a new experience on every visit through a herd. On the first day of the new year this would prove to be an understatement!
16:40- Tracker Foster Masiye sees where the buffalo have crossed the road and makes an informed suggestion as to where we should concentrate our efforts to find the intended member of the big 5.
16:48- Our first long distance look at the herd, still along way off.
16:55- After a few minutes driving we arrive at the back end of the group.
16:58- Not long after being with the peacefully grazing bovines, Foster makes another great observation, he spots a female which seems to be giving birth.
17:03- We carefully follow the surprisingly relaxed cow at a distance and note that since our first observation the foetus has inches out a little more, we can now see its forelegs and the front part of its head to just before the ears.
17:04- The cow has continued grazing desperate to keep up with the herd and not become isolated during her labour. Meanwhile the calf’s ears have just become visible through the blueish-transparent amniotic sack. Foster predicts there is still some time before the birth actually happens.
17:05- Seemingly in mid-stride and at quite a shock to the onlookers the birth just happened. The cow quickly turned around and – seemingly somewhat surprised herself – inspected her new calf. She began to clean it by licking it. Foster suggested we start timing, “in 15 minutes it will be standing!” It was at this point the gravity of the situation resisted for the first time. We had just witnessed a birth, the start of a new life, a perfect little buffalo ready to face the Lowveld. No hospital, no doctors, no support and barely a glance from any of the other buffalo in the herd. It was astonishing. The first day of the year. What a way to symbolise it in the flesh.
17:06- The cow lifted her head after losing herself in the grooming process and scanned her surroundings. She was fully aware of the potential threat of any nearby predators to her helpless newborn, which now twitched and tried to lift its head for the first time. The cow completed a small circle checking a little further afield. The process of cleaning, grazing and scanning for predators would become a constant.
17:17- “It’s getting close” Foster suggested as the calf was becoming more lively by the minute. We took note of the time and realised that Foster might continue his fine form for the day with another great prediction.
17:19- The emotions of the event were still very quietly being processed by the six human on lookers. Very little was being said. Nothing really had to be though. The most raw and necessary of life events was unfolding in plain view.
17:20- Right down to the minute, Foster absolutely nailed it. The little calf got to its feet. It was unsure of what to do next and very wobbly, but on its feet nonetheless. We kept watching, rooting for the young buffalo to quickly get the hang of things to avoid any predatory attention. The event had us completely absorbed. We were all very excited to see the calf take its first steps, so instead of me explaining it, watch the video below…
As mentioned earlier some of my more memorable sightings have involved buffalo. The event depicted above are no different. The quiet cheering I did on that afternoon for one of the new additions to the bush was like nothing I had experienced before. To watch that young buffalo be ing born and then shakily follow its mother back into the safety of the herd was an unpredictable but extremely memorable start to 2016!