Buffalo have a rich history on the Agulhas Plain – dating back hundreds of thousands of years. Here in the Nuwejaars wetlands, we’re working to keep this incredible history alive.
More than 100 000 years ago, the Paleo-Agulhas Plain was home to a buffalo whose enormous horns stretched up to a metre on either side of his head, called the Giant Buffalo.
This now extinct buffalo species (it disappeared from our landscapes around 12 000 years ago) was followed up by the Cape Buffalo – which also roamed the Paleo-Agulhas Plain, an area just off the most southerly tip of Africa roughly the size of Ireland – and now underwater.
The Cape Buffalo and the African buffalo are the same sub-species: Syncerus caffer caffer. But they were last seen in the Agulhas Plain region in the 1700s – and were hunted to extinction here by the settlers of that time.
Give or take around 200 years – and the buffalo is now back on the Plain, on the Nuwejaars Wetlands Special Management Area (NWSMA).
In 2009, with funding support from the German Federal Ministry of the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, buffalo were reintroduced here. And in 2011 the first calf was born on the Plain in more than 200 years. She was named Kamkon (the Khoekhoen name meaning ‘the first lady is born’).
Now, working with the Melozhori Private Game Reserve, we’re offering a home to a new herd of buffalo.
The Melozhori Reserve, situated close to the town of Bonnievale in the Langeberg, donated the herd to the NWSMA. This allows us to bring new buffalo genes into the NWSMA herd, in order to prevent in-breeding. And it means that we have an additional 15 buffalo to add to our current herd.
While the two herds haven’t yet integrated, we have introduced our main bull, Mooibul, to the newbies – and we’re looking forward to meeting the new young ones about 10 months from now.
There have also been six new calves born in the 2021 summer season – with these little ones now at home in a 2 500-hectare area around our wetlands and vleis.
Why were buffalo first reintroduced to the Agulhas Plain?
- It was clearly great to bring a species that had become locally extinct back to where it once roamed free, and where it belongs.
- More than that, though, buffalo formed part of the NWSMA’s drive to ‘flip’ the economy from an intensive livestock-based economy, to a tourism-based economy using mixed natural animals to reduce the impact on our unique and beautiful environment.
- Buffalo are also bulk grazers, especially of tall coarse grasses such Merxmuellera cincta (tall wire grass), Phragmites australis (Vleitjiesriet) and Typha capensis (Bulrush) – all found in our wetlands. Hippos on the other hand graze very short grass. Together these two large mammals support the wetlands, opening up channels so that water can filter into the ground and keep the peat in our wetlands hydrated, to prevent the release of carbon dioxide.
How you can see the buffalo
The buffalo are a regular sighting during our Wildlife Guided Tours – viewed safely from our game-viewing vehicle. Keep an eye out for a cow with a collar. This collar allows us to track the buffalo’s movements via telemetry equipment which supports our management objectives. And also look out for Mooibul – our gorgeous herd bull. His horns may not quite match up with the Giant Buffalo of old, but he’s still a sight to behold.