The Remarkable Madala Buffalo

Most publications write about the Limpopo National Park (LNP), but there are also a string of privately-leased conservation areas in Mozambique south of the LNP along the eastern border of the Kruger National Park. These reserves fall within the description of the Limpopo Transfrontier Park and are called GKG Transfrontier Conservation Areas.

After floods and through other leakage points, animals migrate from the Kruger National Park (KNP) into these areas, and for this we are extremely grateful and we as managers of the areas look after the animals very well. This story comes from one of these conservation areas not normally in the public eye, called Sabiè Game Park (SGP), which lies between the Corumana Dam and the Massintonto River.

The subject of this story is one of these animals, an old buffalo bull that migrated to SGP about four years ago. We, the staff of SGP, have named him “Madala” out of respect for his age and the dignified way he conducts himself. One late afternoon, out of the blue he arrived at our base camp which is not fenced off, seemed to like what he found – clean water, green grass and a group of friendly humans, and promptly made it his base camp too.

He is free to come and go as he pleases and most days goes off to meet up with his younger bull brothers, wanders around on the 26,000 hectare reserve doing what buffalo bulls normally do and when he feels the need for human company, returns to our camp. During these visits to the camp, which incidentally seem to coincide with the full phase of the moon, he arrives unannounced, does his own thing which includes drinking from one or all of our three fairly big bird baths, eating some of the green lawn, and then settling down under our bedroom window to chew the cud until the early hours of the morning. The staff soon become aware of his presence, and treat him with the necessary respect for a wild animal and give him the space he needs.

This goes on for about a week or so and then it seems he feels the need to swap the luxury of the human companionship in the camp and goes off to roam with his buddies again. When he is with us in the camp we talk to him constantly in order to avoid sudden confrontation and he is calm and appears to be listening, but out in the bush when he is with his buddies his reactions are totally different if we try to talk to him.

Even though Madala is rather laid back around the camp, he sometimes gets hearts pounding when one of us suddenly comes upon him standing behind a bush or at one of the birdbaths.

One such occasion was when my wife heard a strange noise outside our room one night and peeped out the front door to see what was going on and found Madala drinking water from the birdbath three metres away from her. Needless to say she made a hasty retreat back into the room!

On numerous occasions other staff have had similar heart-stopping experiences, all without any problems other than a high adrenalin rush. There is a buzz around the camp, which goes on high alert if Madala visits during the day as he sometimes does, in order to ensure safety for both staff and him, and work will continue either indoors or at a good distance from where he is with a game guard nearby.

Life in the bush is often harsh and exasperating for a wildlife manager who has to deal with poaching, wild fires and all the negative implications that go with these and other negative occurrences, and then a phenomenon such as Madala crosses our path to remind us why we chose the career path we did and of our passion for the work we do.

Although our job is not phenomena-based, coming into close contact with one of the species known to be extremely dangerous helps us realise that we are doing work that many would give their eye-teeth for the chance to do.

By Herb Bourn

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