This is probably one of the weirdest titles I have ever used for a blog, but a few days ago it was a very valid question, and one I had no answer for! To set the scene, we must rewind a few days to when one of our large breeding herds of Cape Buffalo made their way back into Tanda Tula’s concession.
It was a somewhat cold and miserable morning, but after a day of howling winds, the animals started to come out of their shells. After seeing rhinos, elephants, giraffes and some sleepy lions, we passed through a herd of buffalos as they filled their mouths with some unappetising looking dry grass. Amongst the menagerie of bowed heads with their decorative horns peacefully mowing the grasses, one individual stood out for its impressively sized horns. We stopped to take some photos of her as I pointed out just how large her horns were compared to the surrounding females, and indeed compared to any surrounding male. In typical buffalo fashion she stared at us most obligingly and my guests quickly dubbed her “the poser”. I was pleased to have been able to catch up with her, as I had seen photos posted of this impressive cow, but hadn’t actually seen her in the flesh. We drove off, and that was that.
The next morning when strategizing about our plans for the morning drive, Scotch said that he was going to go and track down the buffalo herd. He wanted to see this buffalo in particular as ‘she’ seemed different to the rest, and asked if I thought she was a buffalo bull, or a buffalo cow. I told him that there were no bull bits on her, so by a process of elimination, despite her massive horns, she had to be a female. Scotch chuckled and said I needed to look a little closer next time I find “her”.
We managed to track down a herd of elephants with a new born calf and spent some quality time watching them drinking at Impala Dam as the tiny baby did it’s best to not get trampled on by the herd members. As the elephants started moving off, the big herd of buffalo approached for a drink.
I mentioned my discussion with Scotch to the guests, and told them how my interest was now piqued, and that if we saw The Poser, we needed to go and find out what was under her tail. With a set of horns like that, it didn’t take long for us to spot the buffalo milling around the centre of the herd, but not actually coming in to drink. Even from this distance, we could clearly see that there was certainly no boy-bits on her underside (and yes, when it comes to male buffalos, there is definitely no hiding their male genitalia), thus validating my identification of this buffalo as a female.
We made our way a little closer, and in her usual way, The Poser stood staring at us with her enormous horns sweeping out a few feet from either side of her head. The problem was we were not interested in her head, we needed to see her rear end, and more importantly, what lay underneath her tail. Eventually she turned to follow some of the herd members, and as her tail wafted from side to side to chase off the omnipresent annoyance of the biting flies it suddenly became quite clear to us that she was not a she; the essential parts of her anatomy that should have been beneath her tail were not there! This left me a little stumped; if this buffalo was clearly not a cow, and clearly not a bull, then what exactly was it?
I radioed Scotch to confirm with him that his suspicions were undeniably correct, and that this buffalo was evidently lacking in both male and female genitalia, with no visible openings in either location where one would expect them. Rather than saying how interesting it was or what I thought the explanation for it could be, Scotch’s first comment to me was a much simpler and pressing one: “But how does it pee?”. My guests and I had joked about this already, and concluded that this was obviously the reason that it had not come down to drink with the rest of the herd, but as we drove away, I really began wondering what on earth was going on…and how did it pee!
Reviewing my photos, there does appear to be an almost vestigial penis hidden in the belly region, but it most certainly does not offer any use other than a means of excreting the urine that left us all so puzzled. Without any testes (at least not external ones) this buffalo cannot mate, and it is still young, so there is a strong likelihood of its horns growing even bigger in time. And this is the aspect I find so strange; if there is a hormonal imbalance or genetic defect that has reduced the size of the male sexual organs, then why have these same variations produced such immense growth in the horns, bearing in mind that horn size seems to be an indicator of good health and as a result, sexual selection favours those bulls with bigger horns. Yet, here we have a bull with the biggest horns, and he cannot do anything with them (well, at least not from a reproductive point of view); a very strange anomaly indeed!
This sighting once again encapsulated what makes living and working in the bush so special in that it proves that you can never say you have seen it all! Everyday offers the opportunity to see something new, different and ask yourself questions that had never popped into your mind before, like how a buffalo without any clear exit points manages to empty its bladder!