There is only one genus and one species of buffalo in Africa, but this single species has two different types: the large savanna buffalo and the much smaller dwarf forest buffalo. Savanna buffaloes are large, heavy cow like animals.

They vary greatly not only in size, but in the shapes of their horns and color. Adults are usually dark gray or black (or even look red or white if they have been wallowing in mud of that color) and the young are often reddish-brown. The smaller forest buffalo maintains the red color even as an adult, although in western Uganda, many savanna buffaloes are also red or pale orange instead of black. Adults lose hair as they age.

Both male and female buffaloes have heavy, ridged horns that grow straight out from the head or curve downward and then up. The horns are formidable weapons against predators and for jostling for space within the herd; males use the horns in fights for dominance.