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|Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania|
S. c. caffer
The African buffalo, affalo, nyati, Mbogo or Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer) is a large African bovine. It is not closely related to the slightly larger wild Asian water buffalo, but its ancestry remains unclear. Owing to its unpredictable nature which makes it highly dangerous to humans, it has not been domesticated unlike its Asian counterpart the domestic Asian water buffalo. Contrary to popular belief, the African buffalo is not the ancestor of domestic cattle, and is only distantly related to other larger bovines.
The African buffalo is a very robust species. Its shoulder height can range from 1 to 1.7 m (3.3 to 5.6 ft) and its head-and-body length can range from 1.7 to 3.4 m (5.6 to 11 ft). Compared with other large bovids, they are have a long but stocky body (their body length can exceed the Wild water buffalo which is rather heavier and taller) and short but thickset legs, resulting in a relatively short standing height. The tail can range from 70 to 110 cm (28 to 43 in) long. Savannah type buffaloes weigh 500 to 910 kg (1,100 to 2,000 lb), with males, normally larger than females, reaching the upper weight range. A record-sized savannah-type male weighed 1,000 kg (2,200 lb). Forest type buffaloes, at 250 to 455 kg (550 to 1,000 lb), are only half that size. Its head is carried low, its top located below the backline. The front hooves of the buffalo are wider than the rear, which is associated with the need to support the weight of the front part of the body, which is more powerful than the back
Savannah type buffalo have black or dark brown coats with age. Old bulls have whitish circles around their eyes. Females tend to have more reddish coats. Forest type buffalo are reddish brown in colour with horns that curve out backwards and upwards. Calves of both types have red coats.
The horns of African buffalo are very peculiar. A characteristic feature of them is the fact that the adult bull's horns have fused bases, forming a continuous bone shield referred to as a "boss," which can not always be penetrated even by a rifle bullet. From the base the horns diverge, then bend down, and then smoothly curve upwards and outwards. The distance between the ends of the horns of large bulls is more than a metre. The young buffalo horn boss forms fully only upon reaching the age of 5–6 years. In cows the horns are, on average, 10-20% less, and the boss is less prominent. Forest buffalo horns are much smaller and weaker than those of the savannah buffaloes and are almost never fused. They rarely reach a length of even 40 cm.
The African buffalo is one of the most successful grazers in Africa. It lives in swamps, floodplains as well as mopane grasslands and forests of the major mountains of Africa. Buffalo prefer habitat with dense cover such as reeds and thickets but can also been found in open woodland. While not particularly demanding with regard to habitat, they require water daily and therefore depend on perennial sources of water. Like the Plains zebra, the buffalo can live on tall, coarse grasses. Herds of buffalo mow down grasses and make way for more selective grazers. When feeding, the buffalo makes use of its tongue and wide incisor row to eat grass more quickly than most other African herbivores. Buffalo do not stay on trampled or depleted areas for long.
Other than humans, African buffalo have few predators and are capable of defending themselves against (and killing) lions. Lions do kill and eat buffalo regularly and in some regions the buffalo are the lions primary prey. It typically takes multiple lions to bring down a single adult buffalo, however there have been several incidents in which lone adult male lions have been able to successfully bring down large bulls. The Nile crocodile will typically attack only old solitary animals and young calves though can kill healthy adults. The cheetah, leopard and spotted hyena are a threat only to newborn calves, though spotted hyenas have been recorded to kill full grown bulls on rare occasion.
Cape buffalo are susceptible to many diseases including Bovine tuberculosis, Corridor disease and Foot and Mouth. Like with many diseases, these problems will remain dormant within a population as long as the health of the animals is good. These diseases do however restrict the legal movements of the animals and fencing infected areas from unaffected areas is enforced. Some wardens and game managers have managed to protect and breed "disease free" herds which become very valuable because they can be transported. Most well known is Lindsay Hunt's efforts to source uninfected animals from the Kruger National Park in South Africa. Some disease free buffalo in South Africa have been sold to breeders for close to US$130,000.
Herd size is highly variable. The core of the herds are made of related females, and their offspring, in an almost linear dominance hierarchy. The basic herds are surrounded by sub-herds of subordinate males, high-ranking males and females and old or invalid animals. The young males keep their distance from the dominant bull, who is recognizable by the thickness of his horns.
During the dry season, male buffalo will split from the herd and form bachelor groups. There are two types of bachelor herds: ones made of males aged 4–7 years and those of males 12 years or older. During the wet season the younger bulls rejoin a herd to mate with the females. They stay with them throughout the season to protect the calves. Some older bulls cease to rejoin the herd, as they can no longer compete with the younger, more aggressive males. Males have a linear dominance hierarchy which is based on age and size. Since a buffalo is safer when a herd is larger, dominant bulls may rely on subordinate bulls and sometimes tolerate their copulation.
Adult bulls will spar in play, dominance interactions or actual fights. A bull will approach another lowing with his horns down and wait for the other bull to do the same thing. When sparring the bulls twist their horns from side to side. If the sparring is for play the bulls may rub each other's faces and bodies during the sparring session. Actual fights are violent but rare and brief. Calves may also spar in play but adult females rarely spar at all.
African buffalo are notable for their apparent altruism. Female buffalo appear to exhibit some sort of "voting behavior". During resting time, the females will stand up, shuffle around, and sit back down again. They will sit in the direction they think that they should move. After an hour of more shuffling, the females will travel in the direction they decide on. This decision is communal and not based on hierarchy or dominance. When chased by predators a herd will stick close together and make it hard for the predators to pick off one member. Calves are gathered in the middle. A buffalo herd will respond to the distress call of a captured member and try to rescue it. A calf's distress call will get the attention of not only the mother but also the herd. Buffalo will engage in mobbing behavior when fighting off predators. They have been recorded treeing lions for two hours, after the lions have killed a member of their group. Lion cubs can get trampled and killed. In one videotaped instance, known as the Battle at Kruger, a calf survived an attack by both lions and a crocodile after intervention of the herd.
African buffalo make various vocalizations. Many calls are lower pitched versions of those emitted by domestic cattle. Buffalo emit low-pitched 2–4 seconds calls intermittently at 3-6 second to signal the herd to move. To signal to the herd to change direction, leaders will emit "gritty", "creaking gate" sounds. When moving to drinking places, some individuals make long maaa' calls up to 20 times a minute. When being aggressive, buffalo make explosive grunts that may last long or turn into rumbling growl. Cows produce croaking calls when looking for their calves. Calves will make a similar call of a higher pitch when in distress. When threatened by predators, buffalo make drawn about waaaa calls. Dominant individuals make calls to announce their presence and location. A more intense version of the same call is emitted as a warning to an encroaching inferior. When grazing, buffalo will make various sounds such as brief bellows, grunts, honks and croaks.
Buffalo mate and give birth strictly during the rainy seasons. Birth peak takes place early in the season while mating peaks later. A bull will closely guard a cow that comes into heat, while keeping other bulls at bay. This is difficult as cows are quite evasive and attract many males to the scene. By the time a cow is in full estrous only the most dominant bull in the herd/subherd is there.
Cows first calve at five years of age, after a gestation period of 11.5 months. Newly born calves remain hidden in vegetation for the first few weeks while being nursed occasionally by the mother before joining the main herd. Calves are held in the centre of the herd for safety.  The maternal bond between mother and calf lasts longer than in most bovids. However when a new calf is born the bonding ends and the mother will keep her previous offspring at bay with horn jabs. Nevertheless the yearling will follow its mother for another year or so. Males leave their mothers when they are two years old and join the bachelor groups.
The current status of African Cape buffalo is dependent on the existence of the animal's value to both trophy hunters and tourists, paving the way for conservation efforts through anti-poaching patrols, village crop damage payouts, and CAMPFIRE payback programs to local areas.
The buffalo is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN "as the species remains widespread, with a global population estimated at nearly 900,000 animals, of which more than three-quarters are in protected areas. While some populations (subspecies) are decreasing, others will remain unchanged in the long term if large, healthy populations continue to persist in a substantial number of national parks, equivalent reserves and hunting zones in southern and eastern Africa".
In the past, numbers of African Buffalo suffered their most severe collapse during the great rinderpest epidemic of the 1890s, which, coupled with pleuro-pneumonia, caused mortalities as high as 95% among livestock and wild ungulates.
Being a member of the Big Five Game family, a term originally used to describe the 5 most dangerous animals to hunt, the Cape Buffalo is a sought after trophy with some hunters paying over $10,000 for the opportunity to hunt one. The larger bulls are targeted for their trophy value although in some areas buffalo are still hunted for meat.
Known as one of the "big five", "Black Death" or "widowmaker" in Africa, the African buffalo is widely regarded as a very dangerous animal, as it gores and kills over 200 people every year. Buffalo are sometimes reported to kill more people in Africa than any other animal, although the same claim is also made of hippos and crocodiles. Buffalo are notorious among big game hunters as very dangerous animals, with wounded animals reported to ambush and attack pursuers.
African buffalo covered in mud (so it can rub the mud off with its ticks and keep cool) in Phinda, South Africa
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