Original Research

Settling the browser–grazer debate for African buffalo in grass-limited Eastern Cape thicket, South Africa

Marietjie Landman, Kate Kloppers, Graham I.H. Kerley
Koedoe | Vol 60, No 1 | a1465 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/koedoe.v60i1.1465 | © 2018 Marietjie Landman, Kate Kloppers, Graham I.H. Kerley | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 27 February 2017 | Published: 22 February 2018

About the author(s)

Marietjie Landman, Department of Zoology, Nelson Mandela University, South Africa
Kate Kloppers, Department of Zoology, Nelson Mandela University, South Africa
Graham I.H. Kerley, Department of Zoology, Nelson Mandela University, South Africa


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Abstract

Despite extensive evidence that African buffalo Syncerus caffer are grazers, De Graaff et al. using rumen content analysis of animals that had starved to death proposed that buffalo in grass-limited Eastern Cape thicket should be considered browsers. Although these anomalous findings were initially accepted, but later challenged, the browse-dominated diet continues to be used as a foundation for hypotheses on the diet of healthy animals. Consequently, the debate around buffalo as browsers or grazers in thicket has not yet been settled. We describe the diet of buffalo in the Addo Elephant National Park and include data from other published work from the region to test the importance of grass in buffalo diet. We show that the diet is dominated by grasses, even in grass-limited thicket, and that browse species are seldom dominant foods. Thus, there is no empirical evidence to corroborate the notion that buffalo switch their diet to browse when grass availability is low. In an attempt to advance our understanding of buffalo foraging in thicket, we reiterate that De Graaff’s work is not a valid measure of buffalo diet in succulent thicket and that additional testing of the browser–grazer hypothesis is not needed.

Conservation implications: Our results confirm that buffalo are grazers, rather than browsers, in grass-limited Eastern Cape thicket. Thus, additional testing of the browser–grazer hypothesis for buffalo in the region is not needed.

Keywords

browser-grazer; buffalo; Eastern Cape; Syncerus caffer

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