On each of my last three trips to Africa, I’ve returned to civilization with a new appreciation for an animal that I’ve seen countless times before, though previously cared little about. It’s not a conscious effort, I don’t try to feel differently, it just happens.
On my first trip to the Mara Triangle in 2013, I realized I hadn’t given wildebeests their due. Yes, they’re goofy as heck but after seeing multiple river crossings (they are simultaneously brave, silly and breathtaking), plus the opportunity to watch individuals interact in large numbers, I realized I’d been oblivious to their understated coolness.
While in Timbavati, South Africa, in June, the hyena (which normally creeped me out) became the object of my affection spending a morning at a hyena den with two females and their ridiculously adorable young pups. I came away completely enamored.
And so it was with the cape buffalo during my visit to Kenya’s Mara Triangle last month.
It’s not that I didn’t like them before, they’re physically impressive beasts. It’s just that my experience had been limited to watching them graze. Perhaps a mock fight here and there, but on the average they just ate grass.
The turning point? Nearly two hours sitting smack dab in the middle of a large herd—the most I’d seen together at any one time to date.
For whatever reason the buffalo weren’t as skittish about the jeep as they’ve been in past and many of them remained lying down within a few feet of our vehicle, giving me a perfect opportunity to observe them more closely. Unlike before, where eating was all they cared about, a variety of interactions took place.
I wish I could tell you that something miraculous happened too but It didn’t. I saw a lot of little things that captured my heart: a tender interaction between a mother and calf; large groups of buffalo lounging around as if on vacation; the humor of multiple bulls laying down at once resulting in a domino effect that would have given the Three Stooges a run for their money; a series of dopey yet endearing expressions; the magnificence of a huge bull’s boss (the horns), and the lovely doe eyes of a cow.
Nothing earth shattering I suppose, but to me those little moments made all the difference in the world.