African Buffalo

Pangolin unseen

If you read this blog you are aware that I have never seen a pangolin in all the years I have been “bush-bashing”. Admittedly I have not actively searched for one but luck has had it that my path has not crossed a pangolin’s (see

My dream encounter nearly took place during our trip to Hippo Pools via the Umfurudzi Park, located about 130 km North of Harare. While paying the entry fees for the park, the ranger informed me that the Police had seized a pangolin at the border with Mozambique with a prize on its head of USD 5,000! The animal was brought to the park for releasing but he did not know when this would take place!

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We drove directly to the park HQs hoping to get there before it was gone. To my disappointment, we arrived too late: it had been released the night before!

The pangolin. Picture by Mukululi Ndlovu.

The pangolin. Picture by Mukululi Ndlovu.

Pangolin release. Picture by Mukululi Ndlovu.

Pangolin release. Picture by Mukululi Ndlovu.

Despite the setback our visit was very useful. It enabled us to have a look at the improvements taking place at the Umfurudzi Park. Initiated a few years ago, this is a joint venture between The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and the Pioneer Corporation Africa Ltd., a new idea for Zimbabwe with the purpose of the rehabilitation, conservation and sustainable operation of the Umfurudzi Park. In brief, very comfortable facilities are being built including safari tents, bungalows and a nice swimming pool and boma[1].

Parking area showing the wooded area where the accommodation facilities are.

Parking area showing the woodland where the accommodation facilities are.

One of the comfortable bungalows.

One of the comfortable bungalows.

The common facilities and swimming pool.

The common facilities and swimming pool.

The park is also being re-stocked and animal numbers have increased during the last couple of years. According to the information contained in the park’s map, there are today approximately 13 elephant, 160+ buffalo, 300+ eland, 43 giraffe, 30+ tsessebe, 1 sable, 200+ wildebeest and zebra respectively as well as a good number of other smaller antelope.

While driving to the park’s HQs. we found a herd of about fifty buffalo looking relaxed and being “serviced” by red-billed oxpeckers. They are part of the buffalo population now resident in the park. We saw a few calves in the herd so it is clear that numbers will increase in future.

Buffalo being re-introduced.

Buffalo being re-introduced.

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One of the calves.

One of the calves.

The Umfurudzi park now presents me with an irresistible lure as five other pangolins have also been set free into the park, probably making it the park with the highest number of “known” pangolins!

I will return and find one.

Umfurudzi Park, Zimbabwe, 7 October 2015.


[1] Place for eating.


Picture credits: Mukululi Ndlovu


Locking of horns

While staying at Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary in Swaziland in June 2012, we came across something oddly called a Wildlife “Interpretorium” and Training Centre. It was a nicely set up combination of animal exhibits with good working space for training purposes. I am sure that it is put to good use in educating the youngsters in Swaziland. Two things came to my attention there. The first was a bull buffalo skull of normal size but that has a perfectly developed boss[1] but totally lacking the actual horns (Fig. 1, bottom skull). Its apparent perfect symmetry suggests that it was a freakish genetic mishap and not the result of trauma or wear and tear. I imagine this to be a rare occurrence but that is only speculation. Clearly it was an adult male buffalo but we will never know if this malformation had any impact on its life, particularly regarding its sparring and fights with other bulls with the aim of reproduction.

Fig. 1. A normal buffalo skull above and the malformation below. (© Leonor Fernandez)

A normal buffalo skull above and the malformation below. (Picture: Leonor Fernandez)

What I do know is that next to this exhibit there was a much more dramatic one showing what can happen when normally developed horns are locked (Fig.2). Clearly the two fully developed kudu bulls were engaged in a serious quarrel when the accident happened. According to the notice that accompanies the two skulls, their horns’ whacking could be heard from the camp for quite a while until it suddenly stopped. Only a couple of days later it became clear of what had taken place when their carcasses were found. Their horns had become inextricably jammed and their heads were twisted in such a way that their bodies, pointing in the same direction became parallel to each other. No one can live long in such a situation and, unable to separate, the stress, fatigue and lack of water rapidly put an end to their lives in what we can only imagine was a rather protracted agony. One can only hope that such magnificent animals had a chance to pass on their genes before this incident took their lives at their prime.

Fig 2. The display showing the locked kudu horns. (© Leonor Fernandez)

The display showing the locked kudu horns. (Picture; Leonor Fernandez)

The kudu incident brought to mind a finding we came across in the Nairobi National Park, Kenya in the 80’s.  While on a game drive in that magnificent park, our attention was caught by a couple of lionesses on a small hill and we went there to have a look. From the distance, it was clear that they were feeding on a large animal. At close quarters we could see that they were busy with a buffalo carcass that, when we got closer, became two buffaloes and, like the kudu in Swaziland, they had locked their horns (Fig. 3). In this case, however, they were facing each other.

Fig 3. Buffalo with locked horns in Nairobi National Park. The back of a lioness is visible over the buffalo on the left. (© Julio de Castro)

The buffalo with locked horns in Nairobi National Park. The back of a lioness is visible over the one on the left.

Considering the shape of buffalo horns it is difficult to imagine that they can be locked but these two bulls managed it and ended their lives as a consequence. The knoll where the carcasses lay appeared ploughed, no doubt because of the titanic struggle that took place prior to their deaths. How they died will remain another mystery of nature but I would not be surprised that their violent confrontation attracted the lions and they may have had something to do with its ending.

I am sure that this is one risk that the “hornless” freak displayed at the Wildlife “Interpretorium” and Training Centre of Mlilwane did not face.

[1] An adult bull’s horns are fused at the base and this continuous bone structure is known as the “boss”.