Buffalo Definition | Characteristics & Facts



Buffalo Definition

Buffalo are large, herbivorous mammals belonging to the Bovidae family. They are characterized by their massive bodies, sturdy build, and distinct horns. Buffaloes have a hump on their shoulders, a broad head, and a thick coat of fur. They are known for their remarkable strength, endurance, and their ability to thrive in various habitats.

Buffalo General Characteristics & Facts


Buffaloes are large, robust animals. The African buffalo can reach a shoulder height of about 1.2 to 1.5 meters (4 to 5 feet) and weigh between 500 to 900 kilograms (1,100 to 2,000 pounds). American bison are slightly larger, with males weighing up to 900 to 1,000 kilograms (2,000 to 2,200 pounds) and standing around 1.8 meters (6 feet) tall at the shoulder.


Buffaloes have a massive body structure with a stocky build. They have a large head with a broad forehead, strong horns, and a distinctive hump of muscle on their shoulders. Their coat is typically dark brown to black in color, with hair that can be long and shaggy, especially during the winter months.


African buffaloes are found in various habitats across sub-Saharan Africa, including grasslands, savannas, woodlands, and swamps. American bison once inhabited the grasslands and prairies of North America but now primarily reside in protected areas and reserves.


Buffaloes are social animals and often live in herds. African buffaloes form large herds that can consist of hundreds or even thousands of individuals, while American bison typically form smaller herds. They have a hierarchical social structure, and both males and females exhibit strong bonds within their groups.


Buffaloes are herbivores, primarily feeding on grasses and other vegetation. They are well adapted to grazing and can consume large amounts of grass in a day.

Mating and Reproduction

Buffaloes have a polygynous mating system, where dominant males mate with multiple females.

Threats and Conservation

Buffaloes face various threats, including habitat loss, hunting, and diseases. Conservation efforts have been implemented to protect their populations and habitats. The African buffalo is classified as a species of least concern by the IUCN, while the American bison is listed as near threatened.

Cultural Significance

Buffaloes hold cultural and symbolic importance in many societies. They have played a significant role in the traditions, folklore, and spiritual beliefs of indigenous peoples in their respective regions.

Economic Value

Buffaloes have been historically hunted for their meat, hides, and other body parts, which have been utilized for food, clothing, tools, and cultural purposes. Today, they also contribute to ecotourism and the conservation economy.

Ecological Impact

Buffaloes play a vital role in shaping and maintaining their ecosystems. They help create and maintain grasslands through grazing, which impacts plant diversity and provides habitats for other species. They are also a crucial prey species for carnivores, contributing to the overall balance of the ecosystem.

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Buffalo Physical Characteristics

  • Size: Adult African buffaloes typically stand around 1.2 to 1.5 meters (4 to 5 feet) tall at the shoulder, while adult American bison can reach heights of about 1.8 meters (6 feet) at the shoulder.
  • Weight: African buffaloes can weigh between 500 to 900 kilograms (1,100 to 2,000 pounds), with males generally being larger and heavier than females. Male American bison can weigh up to 900 to 1,000 kilograms (2,000 to 2,200 pounds), while females are slightly smaller.
  • Body Structure: Buffaloes have a robust and muscular body structure. They have a broad and powerful chest, giving them a distinctive appearance.
  • Head and Horns: Buffaloes have large heads with broad foreheads. They possess a pair of curved horns that protrude from the sides of the head.
  • Coat and Coloration: Buffaloes have thick and coarse hair covering their bodies. The color of the coat can range from dark brown to black.
  • Hump: Buffaloes, particularly the African buffalo, possess a prominent muscular hump on their shoulders.
  • Tail: Buffaloes have a long and tufted tail that reaches down to their hocks. The tail can be used to flick away insects or communicate with other members of the herd.

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Scientific Classification of Buffalo

African Buffalo

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Artiodactyla
  • Family: Bovidae
  • Subfamily: Bovinae
  • Genus: Syncerus
  • Species: Syncerus caffer

American Bison

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Artiodactyla
  • Family: Bovidae
  • Subfamily: Bovinae
  • Genus: Bison
  • Species: Bison bison

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Key Locations of Buffalo

African Buffalo (Syncerus caffer)

  • Sub-Saharan Africa: African buffaloes are widely distributed across sub-Saharan Africa. They can be found in countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and many others.

American Bison (Bison bison)

  • United States and Canada: American bison were once widespread across North America, but their range has significantly diminished. Today, they can primarily be found in protected areas and national parks in the United States and Canada. Notable locations include Yellowstone National Park, Badlands National Park, and Wood Buffalo National Park.

Asian Water Buffalo (Bubalus bubalis)

  • Asia: Asian water buffaloes are native to Southeast Asia and South Asia. They can be found in countries such as India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

European Bison (Bison bonasus)

  • Europe: European bison, also known as wisent, is primarily found in parts of Eastern Europe, including Poland, Belarus, Russia, Lithuania, and Ukraine. There are also reintroduction programs in other European countries, such as Germany, Netherlands, and Romania.

Buffalo FAQs

What is the main difference between a buffalo and a bison?

“Buffalo” typically refers to the African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) or the Asian water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis), while “bison” refers to the American bison (Bison bison) or the European bison (Bison bonasus).

Are buffaloes dangerous?

Wild buffaloes, such as African buffaloes, can be unpredictable and territorial, especially when they feel threatened. They are known to charge and attack perceived threats, including humans.

What do buffaloes eat?

Buffaloes are herbivores and primarily feed on grasses, although their diet may also include other vegetation like leaves, shoots, and aquatic plants.

Can buffaloes swim?

Some buffalo species, such as the African buffalo, are capable swimmers and can cross rivers and bodies of water. They use their strong legs and body buoyancy to navigate through water.

Are buffaloes endangered?

The conservation status of buffaloes varies depending on the species. For example, the African buffalo is listed as “Least Concern” by the IUCN Red List, indicating a relatively stable population. The American bison, once on the brink of extinction, has made a remarkable recovery but is still considered “Near Threatened.” The European bison has seen population increases due to conservation efforts but is classified as “Vulnerable.”

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