Cape Buffalo vs. Lion. Who Would Win?

Cape buffalos and lions are natural enemies and can often be seen fighting. In fact, Cape buffalos are thought to be responsible for more lion deaths than any other animal. But as we will discover in this post, the rivalry goes both ways.

Due to their massive size and strength, a Cape Buffalo would take out a lion almost every single time in a one on one. A pride of lions can, however, overpower a single Cape buffalo by utilizing the strength of the group. A single lion can sometimes take out a calf or a wounded buffalo on its own.

So as you can see, there is not always a clear winner here as both the Cape buffalos and the lions will take out the other under different conditions. Below, I have covered some of the different conditions that will help each of them win as well as some of the strategies they each use when fighting against the other.

Cape Buffalos and Lions. Natural Enemies

Since lions are among the largest and most deadly predators on the African continent, the natural assumption might be that a lion could easily take down a Cape buffalo but the reality of this face-off is quite a bit more complicated than that.

In a fight between a single Cape buffalo and a single lion, the buffalo would actually win almost every single time. This is primarily due to the massive size and strength of the Cape buffalo, something the lion just can’t compete with.

In addition to the advantage the Cape buffalo gets from its massive size, it can actually also outrun a lion over a longer distance.

The lion’s top speed is approximately 80 km/h and the Cape buffalo’s is around 57 km/h. The lion is a better sprinter and can take off much faster than the Cape buffalo. Over a longer distance, however, the Cape buffalo can actually outrun the lion.

Here is a table in which I have compared the size and top speed of Cape buffalos and lions.

Cape BuffaloLion
Weight350-620 kg. (females)
500-900 kg. (males)
120-180 kg. (females)
150-272 kg. (males)
Height (at the shoulder)150-175 cm.110-120 cm.
Top Speed57 km/h80 km/h
Weight at Birth30-60 kg.1-2 kg.

As you can see, Cape buffalos are significantly larger and heavier than lions which gives them an advantage as it makes them significantly harder to prey on.

Lions can also grow to an impressive size and as you can see in the table above, the heaviest wild lion ever on record weighed an impressive 272 kg. The average lion male weighs a fair bit less than that though at around 190 kg.

Another thing that makes Cape buffalos a difficult animal to prey on for lions is their ribs.

Fully grown Cape buffalos have extremely thick and dense ribs that work almost like armor and protect the chest and organs from the lion’s sharp teeth and claws.

The fact that Cape buffalos are such difficult animals to prey on compared to some of the smaller herbivores on the African continent does not seem to stop the lions though.

In some areas of Africa, Cape buffalos actually make up one of the most important sources of food for lions.

Below we will dive into some of the tricks lions use to overpower the massive Cape buffalos.

Lions Go After the Youngest and the Weakest

As we have already learned, Cape buffalos are far too large and strong for a single lion to overpower but luckily for the lions, there are ways for them to turn the aggressive herbivore into a tasty meal.

For instance, lions often rely on the collective strength of their pride when trying to overpower a Cape buffalo. Going head to head with a Cape buffalo is generally a terrible idea for a lion but when they can rely on the strength of the pride to outnumber and overpower the buffalo, the fight can have an entirely different outcome.

A strategy that lions often utilize is to locate a Cape buffalo that has been isolated from the rest of its herd. Buffalos can be isolated from their herd for several reasons. Sometimes they simply just lag a bit behind.

While this is most often not too dangerous for the buffalo, in some cases it can become a deadly mistake as the lions will sneak up and attack the isolated buffalo from different angles at the same time.

Being the aggressive animals that they are, the buffalo will not give up without a fight and will use its impressive strength and massive horns to try to toss the lions away or even gore them and thereby killing them.

Using its massively thick neck, head and horns, the Cape buffalo can toss the attacking lions several meters through the air.

When multiple lions attack from different angles at the same time though, it can become too much for the buffalo, and eventually, the lions will stand victorious.

Another tactic used by lions is to specifically go after the weaker or wounded buffalos or even the young calves. The reason for this is that weaker buffalos and calves will have a harder time defending themselves or fighting back and are therefore easier for the lions to overcome.

As you will learn in the next part, Cape buffalos will not give up without a fight and will even kill lions if they get the chance.

Cape Buffalos. The Lions Worst Nightmare

Buffalos are very social animals and they usually stay in groups. These groups are generally between 10-20 animals but for longer walks and during mating season, Cape buffalos often come together and form enormous herds of several thousand animals.

Being the social animals that they are, they also help each other out when a conflict between them and one or more lions occur. When one of the buffalos attack, the rest tend to follow and attack with it.

This makes taking on a group of Cape buffalos an extremely dangerous task for the lions.

Cape buffalos are so strong that they can toss attacking lions several meters through the air and even gore them with their horns in an attempt to kill them.

The longest horn from a Cape buffalo ever on record belonged to a female buffalo and measures an impressive 163 cm. That is definitely something no lion want to come in close contact with.

Cape buffalos have even been seen systematically seeking out and killing lion cubs as a means to prevent too many future encounters with the big cats. This suggests an impressive amount of intelligence in the Cape buffalos.

Are Cape Buffalos Dangeous to Humans?

As most people know, you should not come in close contact with a lion. For any reason. Ever.

But what about Cape buffalos? Are they dangeous to humans?

Cape buffalos are thought to be among the African mammals that kill the most humans every year. They are thought to be responsible for around 200 deaths every year

If a big game hunter attempts to shoot at a Cape buffalo but fails to kill it and merely ends up wounding it, the buffalo can sneak around the hunter and wait for the perfect time to charge and attack the hunter from behind.

Unlike some other African mammals, the Cape buffalo does not mock charge so once it starts charging, it will not stop until it reaches and kills its target.

If the hunter somehow manages to get away and climb a tree to safety, the Cape buffalo can even wait underneath the tree for several hours to get its revenge.

Cape buffalos are known as the most dangerous of the big five and when they are referred to as Black death or Widowmakers it is absolutely not a joke.

Some of My Favorite Travel Guide Books

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you found it interesting or even inspirational. If you are considering going on a safari, I highly recommend getting a good guidebook, and since there are so many underwhelming ones out there, I thought I would recommend the best guidebook series I have ever come across.

The guidebooks from Lonely Planet are by far my favorite guidebooks to bring with me when I travel since they are packed with useful information, not only about what you can see but also about practical things such as common phrases, estimated prices for various services, how to tip at restaurants and so much more. These are affiliate links, so if you do decide to use any of them, I will earn a commission. But in all honesty, I personally use the Lonely Planet guide books whenever I travel and I would not recommend them unless I genuinely liked them.

South AfricaLonely Planet South Africa Lesotho & Swaziland. This book contains everything you need to know before visiting South Africa. It provides thorough information about the entire country (including the two smaller countries Lesotho and Swaziland/Eswatini). For those primarily interested in safaris, it has an excellent section about the Kruger National Park which is one of the world’s best destinations for safaris.

Botswana and NamibiaLonely Planet Botswana & Namibia. Botswana and Namibia are located right next to each other in the southern part of Africa, just north of South Africa. Botswana and Namibia are two of the greatest safari destinations in Africa. This book covers many topics including the Etosha National Park in Namibia and Damaraland which is one of the only places left on earth where you can see the black rhinoceros in the wild.

Kenya Lonely Planet Kenya offers great detailed and useful information for traveling in Kenya. For those interested in safaris, there is a great chapter on the Masai Mara National Reserve which offers amazing safari experiences.

Tanzania Lonely Planet Tanzania. Like the other Lonely Planet books I have recommended, this one is full of great and useful information for exploring Tanzania.

If you are looking for travel guide books with a broader focus for inspiration, Lonely Planet East Africa and Lonely Planet Southern Africa are excellent options.

To see all of my most up-to-date recommendations, check out this resource that I made for you!

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