Cape Buffalo Lifespan. How Long do They Usually Live?

Cape buffalos exist in bountiful numbers all over sub-Saharan Africa. They are a member of the Big Five. In this post, I have investigated the lifespan of Cape buffalos including how old they usually get in both nature and captivity.

Wild Cape buffalos have a lifespan of 22 years, however, their life expectancy is much lower at 11 years. This is primarily due to disease and natural enemies such as lions. In captivity, Cape buffalos have a longer lifespan of 29 years since some of these threats are not present.

Before writing this post, I did a ton of research on the lifespan of Cape buffalos under different conditions as well as why they often live significantly shorter than they are actually capable of. What I learned was interesting.

How Long do Cape Buffalos Usually Live?

Together with the elephants, leopards, lions, and rhinoceroses, the Cape buffalo is a proud member of the big five and one of the most popular and well-known animals to see on safaris.

The Cape buffalo has a longer lifespan than leopards and lions but shorter than elephants and rhinoceroses.

The African Cape buffalo has a lifespan of 22 years when living in the wild but usually only lives for around 11 years. When living in captivity, the Cape buffalo has a longer lifespan of 29 years provided that the conditions are good.

The reason why Cape buffalos can live for so much longer in captivity is that some of the most common killers for Cape buffalos are removed or otherwise taken care of.

The most common cause of death and reason why Cape buffalos most often do not live for their entire lifespan are diseases. Cape buffalos travel in large herds so diseases can spread easily.

Another big threat to the Cape buffalo is natural enemies and while it might be tempting to think that such a large and strong animal does not have many natural enemies (which is absolutely true), they do have some and they can be quite dangerous.

What Natural Enemies do Cape Buffalos Have?

Aside from diseases, a big threat to Cape buffalos comes in the form of natural enemies.

How long Cape buffalos live is largely determined by the types of natural enemies, and how many of them share their territory.

Not only are Cape buffalos extremely strong, but they are also massive in size. A fully grown Cape buffalo cow and weigh 1350 pounds (about 620 kg) and a fully grown Cape buffalo bull can weigh as much as 2000 pounds (900 kg). They also stand tall at 5 to 5.7 feet (150 to 175 cm).

Other than that, Cape buffalos are known to be extremely aggressive and have a fierce and unpredictable personality.

For these reasons, Cape buffalos do not have many natural enemies but there is one eternal battle that must be mentioned and that is the battle between Cape buffalos and lions.

If you are interested in reading a more detailed post about one of the most fierce rivalries in Africa, take a look at this post (opens in a new tab).

The eternal battle between Cape buffalos and lions goes as far back as the existence of these two animals. When Cape buffalos and lions meet, things can get very serious very quickly.

If you have a few minutes to spare, I highly encourage you to watch some of this incredible footage shot in Kruger National Park of South Africa where you can see just how heated this rivalry can get.

If a single Cape buffalo meets a single lion, chances are that the Cape buffalo will be able to easily defend itself and either kill the lion or defend itself for long enough so that the lion flees.

Usually, lions hunt in groups, however, and when they do this they are easily capable of hunting and killing a Cape buffalo as they can surround it and attack from all sides simultaneously.

It is not always that easy for the lions since Cape buffalos are also highly social creatures that typically live in herds of 10 to 20 animals but sometimes, especially during mating season or on long walks, they can form temporary herds of several thousand animals.

As it can also be seen in the footage above, Cape buffalos are very good at defending each other and once a member of their herd is under attack, they will usually try to counter the attack. And once one of the Cape buffalos attack, the rest usually follow.

Cape buffalos are so strong that they can throw lions several meters through the air. They will use their massive horns to try to impale attacking lions.

Cape buffalos have even been observed strategically seeking out and killing lion cubs. Seemingly to reduce future competition.

Cape buffalos are especially good at defending their young and old or otherwise weak herd members but this is not always an easy task and lions will actually often specifically seek out calves or weak Cape buffalos and wait until they get separated from their herd and then attack them.

A single lion can take down a weak Cape buffalo or a calf on its own.

But there is actually meaning to this madness and Cape buffalos and lions do not merely fight each other to kill. In some areas of Africa, Cape buffalos actually make up the majority of lions’ food.

Another natural enemy for Cape buffalos is humans. Both through hunting and through the loss of habitat due to it being used for agriculture and similar projects that eliminate livable habitat for the Cape buffalos.

Loss of habitat is perhaps the most significant long-term threat to Cape buffalos.

As I have already briefly mentioned, Cape buffalos are part of the group known as the Big Five which consists of Cape buffalos, Elephants, Leopards, Lions, and Rhinoceroses.

The big five were named so because they are perceived as being the most dangerous five African mammals to hunt.

It is estimated that Cape buffalos kill upwards of 200 humans per year, most of them, big game hunters.

The Lifespan of All Members of the Big Five

These are the lifespans in both nature and captivity of all members of the big five:

Lifespan in natureLifespan in captivity
Cape buffalo22 years29 years
Elephant70 years17 years
Leopard17 years23 years
LionMales: 16 years
Females: 18 years
30 years
RhinocerosWhite rhinoceros: 40 years
Black rhinoceros: 45 years
White rhinoceros: 50 years
Black rhinoceros: 45 years

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