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Oh Cape buffalo, you misunderstood beast! Such a beautiful animal yet most people don’t care too much about them, especially in comparison to the rest of the big five.

Okay, they aren’t always the most photogenic. But perhaps the main reason people aren’t too interested is because of the sounds a buffalo makes. It’s all grunt grunt, mumble mumble, nothing like the orchestral wonder of the sounds made by elephants.

But wait! Learn to decipher the sounds a buffalo makes and you’ll have a new found appreciation for this incredible animal.

In this article we’re discussing Cape buffalo, the wild animals found across Southern and East Africa. Not bison that live on the American plains, nor water buffalo who live in Asia and have been domesticated.

What Sound do Buffalo Make?

Buffalo communicate through a complex series of grunts, gargles and mumbles. To the untrained ear all these will sound very similar. But a change in pitch or volume is very important to how buffalo communicate.

Mumbling

Mumbling grunts are everyday communication between members of the herd. These are less audible when you are on safari, used as a simple means of conversing; for example, you could translate a mumble as “hey, the grass is greener over here!” Mumbles can be short or long dependent on what needs to be said.

Gargling

Gargling sounds are an important form of communication between adult females and calves. Note that these are not just between a mother and her own calf: many different females live in the same herd and they help each other out with motherly duties.

Long gargling sounds are used to warn calves of impending danger. They are also a means of locating a calf and guiding it back to its mother and herd.

Grunts

Loud and short grunts are the most commonly observed buffalo sound. These are used when buffalo want to get their way. It’s a form of intimidation.

A herd of buffalo will start grunting when a lion pride is close by, using these explosive sounds to warm their predators away.

It’s relatively safe to encounter a buffalo harem during a safari, even on a walking or cycling safari. However, it can be very dangerous to encounter a herd of bachelor males – there’s just too much testosterone in the air!

When you encounter a buffalo and it grunts loudly at you – retreat! Whether on foot or in a vehicle, a loud explosive grunt means the buffalo is both angry and aggressive. Watch out because African buffalo kill an average of 200 people every year!

It’s all about the tone and key

Many of the sounds made by elephants are inaudible to human ears. We can hear all the sounds made by buffalo, but we don’t have the knowledge to interpret the subtle variations in pitch and tone.

Just remember, loud and short sounds are a show of power. Long quieter mumbles are a more friendly form of communication.

Communicating with body movements

Buffalo also communicate with their body. Unfortunately we’re not very good at interpreting these either.

Elephants will give three warning before they charge. Buffalo will just charge. So watch out when you’re on safari!

Listen to the sound made by this buffalo after it is hunted by a pride of lions. It communicates for back up and the herd comes to the rescue.