The African forest buffalo (Syncerus caffer nanus), also known as the forest dwarf buffalo, is the smallest subspecies of the African buffalo. It is related to the Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer caffer), the Sudan buffalo (Syncerus caffer brachyceros) and the Nile buffalo (Syncerus caffer aequinoctialis). However, it is the only subspecies that occurs mainly in the rainforests of central and western African countries with an annual rainfall of around 1 500 mm.

The forest dwarf buffalo is a small subspecies of the African buffalo. Cape buffalo weigh anywhere from 400 to 800 kg, while African forest buffalo are much lighter, weighing in at 250 to 320 kg. Their weight is not the only differentiation, however; this subspecies has a reddish-brown hide that is darker in the facial area. Also, the shape and size of the horns distinguish African forest buffalo from the other subspecies. They have much smaller horns than their savanna counterparts, the Cape, Sudan and Nile buffalo. Cape buffalo horns often grow and fuse together, but this happens rarely in the case of the African forest buffalo.
Hunting forest dwarf buffalo must be one of the most exhilarating hunts that you can undertake on the African continent.

Don’t let the size of this miniature buffalo fool you; it is extremely aggressive – sometimes, I think, much more so than the Cape buffalo! A possible reason for their aggressiveness is the fact that, because of the nature of the forest, the hunter gets so close to these buffalo that he has entered right into their safe zone when he encounters them for the first time. Their natural self-defence mechanisms kick in and they become extremely aggressive in the act of defending themselves.

Forest dwarf buffalo live in the rainforests of West and Central Africa. However, their home ranges typically consist of a combination of marshes, grassy savannas and the wet African rainforests. Savannas are the area where the buffalo graze, while the marshes serve as wallows and help to protect them against insects. These buffalo are very rarely observed in the unbroken canopy of the forests. They instead spend most of their time in clearings, grazing. Consequently, their diet is primarily made up of grasses and other plants that grow in clearings and savannas.
The mixture of habitats is essential for the African forest buffalo. Expansion and encroachment of the rainforest on the surrounding savannas and openings are major difficulties of maintaining the ecosystem. Forest dwarf buffalo enjoy old logging roads and tracks, where the forest is thinner and grass and other foods can grow.
The forest buffalo occur in relatively small herds compared to the well-studied Cape buffalo. Cape buffalo can have herds of over 1 000 members. However, forest dwarf buffalo stay in much smaller groups – as small as three and rarely over 30. If these animals are in a large group, they spend more time grazing, since there is less need to be on the alert.
A herd of forest dwarf buffalo typically consists of one or occasionally two bulls and a couple of adult females, juveniles and young calves. Unlike Cape buffalo bulls, forest dwarf buffalo bulls remain with the herd continually, year round. Animals usually remain in the same herd their entire lives.
Forest dwarf buffalo are relatively unaffected by seasonal cycles. However, in the wet season, herds are more spread out in the forest and these animals tend to use resting places based on sand during the wet season, but use dirt and leaves during the dry season.

As hunts are conducted in the rainforest, the hunting methods are similar to those used for hunting bongo.
A normal buffalo hunting day will start by leaving the camp early morning and looking for the tracks of a solitary buffalo bull. The reason for this is that if one uses dogs on the hunt, they will normally bay a cow or a calf. This wastes time and makes following herds of buffalo a dangerous practice.
On the other hand, if you are hunting the savannas and open areas, you can always follow a group of buffalo into a savanna area. Your primary objective would be to find them in the savanna, therefore no dogs are used in a savanna hunt.
Hunting these savanna areas can be very rewarding. The ideal would be to sneak into a vantage area, where you have a view of the open savanna. Sometimes high positions are used to get a better view of the entire area. A big advantage is that you can see the buffalo better and you have more time to judge age and to properly evaluate the trophy quality.
Throughout the rainforest there are some salt licks that provide a very good starting point. We visit these salt licks often to see if there is any activity, and also use trail cams at the salt licks to determine buffalo activity. These trail cams have provided us with invaluable information in the past, confirming the size of the herd and the age of the buffalo, as well as the trophy size. It also gives you an idea of when the buffalo are actively moving around.
As discussed earlier, forest dwarf buffalo are much more aggressive than Cape buffalo. I really think these small diminutive buffalo are devoid of any sense of humour! Sometimes when they sense that you are close, they actually seem to start hunting you instead of the other way around. They normally chase the dogs and, of course, the dogs will instinctively run back to you for protection. In the end, the buffalo is running straight at you. As soon as they see you, the chasing of the dogs changes into a full-out charge!
Clothing and equipment are exactly the same as you would use on a bongo hunt, which I discussed at length in my previous article. As soon as you step into the rainforest, the equipment, clothing and protection are the same.
You do, however, always need to be ready for any unforeseen circumstances.
As in the case of a bongo hunt, the dogs do not track the buffalo, the pigmy trackers do that. The dogs only pick up on the animal once it moves. Hopefully you are lucky and you get the buffalo bayed – and have time to see that it is an old enough male, and get a shot at it. It is much more dangerous for the dogs to bay a buffalo, because the animal will fight the dogs, whereas the bongo normally is a little bit more placid. Rather than fight the dogs, it will look for a way to escape.
Again, as is the case with a bongo, you need to get to the animal as quickly as possible once it has been bayed. Many a time before you actually reach the bay area, the buffalo will have broken the bay and disappeared into the forest.
As far as calibres go, the best for these buffalo is a .375 and upwards. It does sometimes help having a bigger calibre available, especially when these aggressive little buffalo charge you. Just remember that you can get a distance shot off a high seat or in an opening of up to 100 m, and for that you must be able to take the shot. A rifle with a quick-release scope-mount configuration is always a good idea. This gives you the possibility of using open sights in the rainforest, and use the scope when you have to take a distance shot.
We hunt more bongo per year than buffalo, as the licencing system only allows you to hunt two Class A animals on a hunting licence. Some hunters prefer to hunt bongo and sitatunga, while others prefer to hunt bongo and buffalo. This explains why there are fewer buffalo hunts.
Hunting forest dwarf buffalo is one of my favourite hunts in the whole of Africa. There is a lot of factors working together that makes this such a wonderful experience. There is a healthy dosage of exhilaration combined with some danger and a little bit of luck – which makes this hunt a whole lot of fun! And, as always, a huge privilege. ASM