My Horns are Bigger than Yours!

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Buffalo Eye to Eye

What is it about a fight that attracts our attention. Maybe because of mans primeval instinct to fight, that we see one we want to watch it.

Watching animals fight is always interesting as its usually a tussle between an older dominant animal and a young upstart with something to prove. In most cases the challenger has nothing to lose, whereas the dominant animal has everything on the line. Some of the battles like those that occur between lions are fierce. Others are a show of strength. Some last only a few minutes, others are a marathons that can last hours.

When it comes to brute force, nothing compares to the bone crunching clash of heads of two Buffalo. It’s a hard sharp thump of horns backed by tons of beef. The shove that follows includes a vicious twist of the horns designed to inflict maximum injury to the opposing animal.

During our last trip to Kruger National Park, the grasslands north of Satara camp was the scene of one such battle between two big bull buffalo that occurred just next to the road. We will never forget the brutal crack and thump of clashing heads very close to where we had stopped. It was a contest akin to that of sumo wrestlers. The two buffalo butted heads, pushed and twisted over and over with neither really gaining ground or prevailing over the other. The fight was very equally matched and went on for at least twenty minutes, until finally both contestants seemed to accept that it was not going anywhere and gave up.

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Processing the photos later I enlarged one shot and was amazed to find it shows the tip of one horn just about to penetrate the flesh below the eye of the other. This is the raw Africa that we read about and watch on TV, and it was great to come away with such a reminder in the camera.

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When it comes to plain dumb stupid fighting I don’t think there are any animals more dumb and stupid than Impala. Once a year, around April/May the rutting ritual begins. The males are very territorial and dominant rams fight for breeding rights over a herd of females. Such is the stupidity of Impala male testosterone that the older more dominant males start fighting first. In between the winning ram runs around chasing any males who happen to come close to the harem of females. The event goes on for days and days until sheer exhaustion sets in. The irony of the whole show is that it is often the younger less strong rams, which inevitably enter the fray later who are the ones who end up as winners.

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Coming a close second to Impala in the dumbness ranking are Springbok. In order to breed Springbok males must hold a territory that has sufficient resources to attract females. Territorial fights between males are frequent during the rutting period. The ringed horns of Springbok are effective fighting weapons that sometimes become entangled in a fight resulting in the death of one or both of the contestants.
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The most interesting fights to watch are those that are more technical. What I mean by this is that whilst most animal fights are head on affairs there are those that seem to involve more horn twisting technique besides just shoving. These are fights that demand upper body and neck strength and a lot of stamina.
We once watched two Waterbuck tussle in a river below the bridge we had stopped on. This fight between a big more mature ram and a younger, clearly less developed one lasted almost an hour. The bigger older animal was clearly stronger and frequently used his superior neck strength to twist his opponents head right down. But his younger opponent was tenacious and persistent and refused to give up until finally it dawned on his dumb brain that he was not going to win.
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The mother of all long horned fights for female mating rights that we have seen has to be that between two Gemsbok. These animals aim to win by a mix of pushing power and deft horn movement that potentially can inflict injury on the opponent. Gemsbok horns are long so the tussling and twisting is more complicated with the stronger animal clearly more dangerous in likely being able to injure the weaker. At first, when you start watching such fights it always seems the two animals are evenly matched. But it does not take too long to see who is the more stronger and skilled.  Gemsbok fights are almost like watching Olympic Fencers with their horns their swords.
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Animal fights….it’s fascinating stuff!!

 

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