This might seem a strange description for a lone African Buffalo (Syncerus caffer) seen wallowing in the mud, walking ever so slowly towards a waterhole or grazing in the veld. The double ‘g’ in dagga is pronounced as you would the ‘g’ in ‘gold’ or ‘glory’. The term ‘dagga’ in this context most likely has its origins in the Zulu word udaka (meaning mud or clay). In fact, you might frequently see remnants of mud caked on the hide of these lone buffalo. This is because they seem to spend a lot of time either rolling in mud or immersing themselves in muddy wallows.
These solitary old buffalo are past their prime – you can usually see how their covering of hair has thinned so that bald spots appear. By wallowing in thick mud the buffalo ensure they have a barrier against both the sun and the parasites that might infest these bald spots. Here two of these old dagga boys have teamed up in the Kruger National Park to seek water. Note the Red-billed Oxpeckers on their backs – they too help rid these animals of pesky parasites.
This lone dagga boy is grazing in the Addo Elephant National Park – not far from water, yet with no other buffalo to be seen in the area. He is possibly staying in this area with soft green grass because his teeth have worn down with age and so it is easier to eat. Note his heavy boss and upward curved horns – he must have been a formidable bull in his prime.
Now he lives away from the herd. He might team up with another dagga boy. Either way, as he weakens with age – and without the protection of the herd – he will become a target for predators.
Rest well old chap.
We are used to seeing Cattle Egrets darting about in the company of cattle, zebras and buffalo so it is always interesting to see other birds making a meal of the ticks that attach themselves to animals as they walk through the grass. The first of these is a pair of sheep hosting a Fork-tailed Drongo and a Red-billed Oxpecker respectively:
I am always excited to spot an oxpecker around these parts.
Redwinged Starlings are common garden visitors and a large flock of them gather daily in the Natal fig. It was a strange sight, however, to turn a corner in town to find these ones astride a cow while they feasted on ticks:
The sun had already set, so the light is not good yet you can see the russet in the outstretched wings of the bird on the right.
There appeared to be a conflict of views being played out while the cow munched away placidly.
We have got to know various members of the Urban Herd quite well over the years and have even named the more familiar among them. Before I return to them let me introduce you to an interesting South African breed of cattle called Bonsmara. Here are a few on a cattle farm in the Lothians area.
These reddish-looking cattle are the result of an extensive scientific breeding programme conducted by Professor Jan Bonsma from the Department of Agriculture to produce cattle that are well adapted to a sub-tropical climate; that will calve every year; and will produce good quality beef. The name is a combination of the name of the professor and ‘Mara’, the experimental farm on which they were bred. They animals have the attributes of both Bos indicus and Bos Taurus. Why this should make any difference I don’t know, but in order to conform to breed standards these cattle have to be de-horned!
Back to the Urban Herd. Look at the lovely shape of the horns on a cow we call The Master Hooter.
There are some interesting aspects about her, one of which you may have noticed is that, apart from an identifying notch in her ear, there is also a hole. Perhaps too many other cows have simple notches, although the pattern on the hide of this one is distinctive.
The other is that at some stage she lost the tuft at the end of her tail. The Urban Herd wander all over town and beyond, so who knows – it may have been grabbed by a dog or caught in a fence …
At this stage she and her companions are grazing along the road of our ‘industrial area’ on the edge of town. Behind her is a calf, sired no doubt by the Arctic Bull – who has sowed his wild oats across many of the Urban Herd cows!
Wait! Did you spot something interesting on the back of that calf? It looks equally interested and I felt ecstatic:
Red-billed Oxpeckers! How very exciting it is to spot these so close to home!
Cattle Egrets are the more usual companions of the Urban Herd, wherever they happen to wander.
Lastly, here is The Master Hooter’s Sister:
Size-wise, the African or Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer) is no pushover:
Look at the beautifully symmetrical curve of the horns on this one:
This buffalo must have been in a tussle a long time ago as a result of which it has lost one tip of its horn:
Red-billed Oxpeckers were re-introduced to the Addo and Great Fish reserves in 1990 and play a role in ridding animals of ecto-parasites. Here one can be seen inspecting the boss of a buffalo:
Here is an old buffalo:
Sadly, this is all that remains of a buffalo that was no longer able to defend itself.
NOTE: Click on the photographs if you wish to see a larger view.