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Forest Buffalo (Syncerus caffer nanus) Fact Sheet: Physical Characteristics

Forest Buffalo (Syncerus caffer nanus)

Physical Characteristics

Body measurements

Attribute Measurement
Weight 265-320 kg (584-705 lb)
Head-body length 180-220 cm (71-87 in)
Shoulder height 100-130 cm (39-51 in)
Horn width 34-72 cm (13-28 in)


Data source: Wilson and Mittermeier (2011)

Also see Life Stages.

General Appearance

Wilson and Mittermeier (2011)

  • Distinctly smaller than the other three African buffalo subspecies
  • Cattle-like appearance, but less massive
  • Dark markings on limbs
  • Horns shorter than other subspecies; curve upwards
  • Large, prominent ears
  • Wide mouth
  • Bare, moist nose
  • Tuft on tail


  • Coloration includes various shades of black, brown, red, and yellow
    • Underside and chin are often pale.
    • Herds often contain individuals of different coloration.
    • Color tends to darken with age, and females do not attain the same degree of blackness as males.
    • Darker color is thought to be more conspicuous than lighter color, and cryptic coloration in a large, social species may be of little value.
    • Forest buffalo are typically lighter (red-brown to brown) than Cape buffalo, though forest buffalo males are sometimes black.
  • Pelage of juveniles is thicker than that of adults; dark brown hide shows through on old bulls.
  • Forest buffalo usually have a short dorsal mane.

Other Physical and Physiological Characteristics

  • African buffalo and Asian water buffalo have horns that are triangular-shaped in cross-section (as opposed to round-shaped in cattle and bison). In the African buffalo's skull, the vomer and palatine bones remain separate, while in the water buffalo they are fused.
  • Stout legs to support its ox-like body. Front hooves are larger than the rear hooves, which reflects the weight it carries in its massive head, horns, and neck. Broad hooves, well-developed false hooves, and lack of an interdigital cleft are advantageous on wet ground.
  • Capable of running at speeds up to 48-56 km/hour, enough to outrun lions, but not adapted to running far.
  • Skin may be >1 cm thick.
  • Females have two pairs of inguinal mammae.
  • No scent glands.
  • Loss of body water through evaporation can be reduced by allowing the body temperature to gradually rise through the day; the "stored heat" is then lost at night.
  • Stiff, relatively-immobile lips prevents it from feeding selectively on short grass as do smaller herbivores, but a wide incisor row, along with use of the tongue, allow it to pluck whole bundles of grass and thus consume more quickly.
  • Dental formula is: incisors, 0/3; canines, 0/1; premolars, 3/3; molars, 3/3; total, 32.
  • Olfaction is good; hearing and particularly vision are less acute, suggestive of its recent forest origins.

Forest Buffalo

Forest Buffalo

Forest buffalo have a cattle-like appearance, but are smaller than the other three African subspecies.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Delany & Happold (1979)
Estes (1991)
Haltenorth & Diller (1980)
Happold (1987)
Hofmann (1973)
Kingdon (1982, 1997)
Mloszewski (1983)
Pienaar (1969)
Schaller (1972)
Sinclair (1977)
Smithers (1983)

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