The man who brought buffalo back to the Cape


It's hard to believe, but on a game reserve 45 minutes from the centre of Cape Town, on the way to Kommetjie, eight buffalo have been happily living in an area which used to be their natural habitat.

And last weekend they were joined by the ninth, baby Argente, born to Honi the herd leader.

Argente is the first buffalo to be born on the Cape Peninsula in more than 330 years, and that's something special - particularly to Lindsay Hunt, the man responsible for bringing these buffalo back to the Cape.

Hunt, owner of Solole Game Reserve, is a man of vision and passion.

What started as a one-hectare plot in suburban Sunnydale, near Fish Hoek, has grown into a 300ha reserve for antelope and buffalo.

Impossible is not a word Hunt has in his vocabulary. "My ambition exceeds my intellect," he jokes, but that's clearly not a bad thing when you manage to achieve the "impossible".

In Hunt's case, that was to breed disease-free buffalo (Syncerus Caffe, or Cape Buffalo) from Kruger Park stock. More of that later ...

The last Cape buffalo was killed in Constantia 337 years ago, he says, and buffalo horns have been dredged up from Zeekoevlei.

The Solole reserve is opposite Masiphumelele, extending into the Roodeberg mountains. Driving through the urban sprawl, it's difficult to believe there could be buffalo living here.

It's awesome seeing these buffalo up close, with their horns that can stop a bullet and their soft black noses. Seeing Hunt interact with them is even more amazing.

He's clearly accepted by the herd, and they come to him when he calls.

He moves among them, speaking to them, and they rub against him.

I always thought buffalo were bad-tempered, but I'm gently chided by Hunt. They're very tactile, he says, intelligent and demonstrative animals and their cantankerous reputation only comes from being hunted.

They love contact, unlike springbok, for example, which may lie together but have no body contact, except during courtship and aggressive interactions.

"They lick me and demand attention. Silver likes scratches," he says.

"I'm accepted as a non-threatening member of the buffalo herd, but they're not imprinted.

"If bontebok imprint, they will kill you. If Bruno thought I was a buffalo, I would be killed."

Although he'd hate to be called anything like a "buffalo hugger", Hunt obviously loves his herd. He climbs on a buffalo's back and gives him a good pat. Something to see, but not imitate.

Honi is herd leader, and Bruno and Silver are the adult males. They're four years old, and already enormous. Although considered mature at two-and-a-half years old, they're only fully grown by eight. Then there are five calves, who are two years old.

Buffalo are very social, and a young blind bull, Tyson, is looked after by the others, whom he follows, using his acute hearing and smell.

Hunt tells how one day when fetching the buffalo, who freely roam the reserve on Mondays, he decided to take a shorter route.

"They wouldn't buy it. Tyson, who was born blind, knew the other route, and that's the way they were taking him."

Each buffalo is unique, each has its own personality.

Solole is not only a place of buffalo: Hunt also has seven antelope species and many smaller mammals such as mongoose. A Cape clawless otter has taken up residence.

"I'm passionate about all my animals," he says. "I respect them and never used food to bribe them. I don't have the thin veneer of civilisation that others do.

"I do have respect and understanding. I work on a different level, I can't explain it. I know how far I can go. I sense it."

He also loves the earth, and has cleared a 70ha area of his land in the Roodeberg mountains of aliens. He's planted over four thousand trees, and a botanical garden, providing medicinal plants, suitable thickets and fodder for his antelope.

The story of how he managed to bring disease-free buffalo back to the Peninsula is a long one.

He grew up on a farm near Stellenbosch. From an early age he had an affinity with animals, keeping squirrels and rabbits as pets, and visited game sites.

"I wanted an impala, and I was told that if I could catch one, I could have it. So I jumped off the bakkie to try to catch one - which shocked the adults!"

At 10 he started hunting. Then after school in Canada, he studied business science at the University of Cape Town, and took groups hunting to pay his fees.

But a "sensible future, responsible life" it was not going to be for Hunt.

He took up professional endurance hunting for eight years, and then came a turning-point in his life.

He had been taking care of a baby springbok abandoned by its mother and was given a bontebok to look after. "I realised these animals had distinct personalities."

Then, at the end of his next hunt, a client shot an eland.

"A tear rolled down its face, but I'd seen that before. What did happen is that I realised that this was not just a life, but a personality.

"At that point, I decided I would never hunt again."

What he did instead was make history by successfully breeding the first disease-free buffalo in southern Africa.

Until then all buffalo in the Kruger National Park had corridor and foot and mouth disease and many had TB, he says, and couldn't be moved around the country.

He set up a research project, working on the untested theory that diseases were transmitted through mother's milk, not the placenta. New-born calves were removed to a nursery and suckled by Jersey cows.

In November 1998, the first disease-free buffalo were born in Phalaborwa - Silver and Bruno.

"I promised their mothers I wouldn't part with their first-born." And he hasn't.

"And so I had to have somewhere to bring the offspring, and this was a natural place for them," he says.

This breeding programme supports Solole, as does a restaurant on the reserve, a converted 1752 clay brick building called Mnandi's.

Visitors can see the buffalo if they book in advance. There are guided walks.

For more information, contact Trish at 021 785 1320.


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