‘Dagga boys’ is a term used to describe old and usually solitary buffalo bulls who have been forced out of the herd by young virile bulls, or have fallen behind the herd due to their need for softer vegetation. But it’s wise not to be fooled by their condition. These monoliths are known for putting up a great fight when spooked, injured or trapped, even chasing down potential danger, like lions, by themselves. They were also known to kill hunters in the old hunting days of Zambia and Zimbabwe, and were notoriously hard to take down, hence their inclusion in the ‘Big Five’ (along with elephant, lion, leopard, and rhino).
Here in Madikwe, there is such an air of mystery around these amazing beasts that sets them apart from their younger counterparts. They are known for quietly roaming around in dense shrub, heading from mud hole to mud hole, looking for water and good feeding ground. They have a reputation for suffering a severe lack of humour, taking on anything they dislike – from other dagga boys, predators, and even bigger animals like rhino (which usually ends badly for the buffalo), to offensive shrubs!
The exact root of the name ‘dagga boy’ is unknown, yet there are a couple of theories on its origin. Some say the name is a reference to Zimbabwean builders, who, on the job, would be covered in dagga (an earthen plaster material) and were known for their aggressive demeanor after having a few drinks. But were the buffalos named after the builders or the builders after the buffalos? An interesting question and one that I cannot presume to answer!
There is another theory that the name originated from the Zulu word ‘dagga’ meaning mud. The old boys are known for wallowing in mud holes to cool down and sooth their skin, as well as caking themselves in it to protect their skin. Because they experience hair loss, the mud is thought to prevent sunburn, relieve itchy skin and rid the body of parasites.
So next time you see one of these old guys ambling through Madikwe’s sickle bush thickets or taking a mud bath, don’t forget to appreciate their sheer strength and determination for survival!
Words and photos by: JP Appelgren