Buffalo Painting by Ilse de Villiers

“An unpredictable force” 

As a South African Wildlife Artist, my goal is to portray the country and animals that I love and associate with. In this blog post, I will be sharing my experience of creating a high-contrast buffalo painting, which I titled “An unpredictable force.”

The Big 5 and Cape Buffalo:

South Africa is known for the “Big 5,” which includes lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo. The Cape or African buffalo has a notorious reputation for being unpredictable, moody, and having the propensity to forcefully charge without warning. These characteristics have given them status in the “Big 5,” and they are also considered the most dangerous to hunt.

Buffalo painting by Ilse de Villiers

Finding the Perfect Reference Photo:

I had the idea of doing a high-contrast buffalo study for close to two years, but finding the exact right reference photo has been a challenge. On our visit to the Kruger National Park in June 2022, we made it a goal to find buffalo and get that shot that would inspire an artwork.

It’s usually not too difficult to find buffalo on a trip to the Kruger National Park, but it couldn’t just be any buffalo bull- I wanted one with huge horns & ‘the look’ that would stop someone in their tracks. As usual light would be a determining factor & every morning, with the early morning sun just about to appear over the horizon, we set out to find buffalo herds.

We eventually did find a herd, but they were too far & in long grass, mostly with their heads down, feeding. After a few unsuccessful attempts to get some good images, we decided to move on. After a while a dirt road turned off to the right & we decided to take it. After a few bends in the road we came across a big herd moving more or less parallel to the dirt road, probably on their way to the nearby river.  They were closer to the road than the previous herd & the grass was far less dense here.  Every now & then a large bull would stop & stare at us. Although buffalo’s sight & hearing are less well developed, their sense of smell is excellent & they will use this to find food & water & detect danger (predators)

The light was perfect & Abraham positioned our vehicle a little to the front so that the herd would more or less be moving in our direction. I had my eyes glued to the binoculars & was ‘stage-whispering’ directions as to where he should be pointing the camera & which bulls he should take shots of. Luckily my husband has an eye for these things & he took a whole lot of awesome images.

Ilse de Villiers Buffalo painting


In South Africa the traditional zulu name is  “Inyathi”. The buffalo is an important cultural symbol for many African tribes, including the the Zulu and Xhosa people. It is a source of food, clothing, and other resources, and is revered for its strength and resilience. The Zulu people have a deep respect for the buffalo and believe that it embodies the spirit of the land.


Inyathi can be broken down as follows:

  • In-: a prefix that indicates a singular noun
  • -ya-: a verb root meaning “to eat”
  • -thi: a noun suffix that refers to an animal, specifically a large mammal

So Inyathi can be translated as “a large animal that eats,” which is a fitting description for the Cape buffalo.

Buffalo painting “An unpredictable force”By Wildlife Artis Ilse de Villiers
Wildlife artist Ilse de Villiers Buffalo painting

Capturing the Moment:

With this setting, coupled with my husband Abraham’s photography skills he captured some great reference photos (high-contrast buffalo that I have been looking for). Back home, my biggest problem would now be which images to choose as the main reference for the painting. 

Portraying the Moodiness and Drama:

It was my goal to accentuate both the light and dark in this painting and really portray the ‘moodiness’ or drama associated with the Cape buffalo. These animals are icons of the African bush and the legendary tales that accompany them. The painting focuses on the buffalo’s horns, which are perhaps their most identifying characteristic and a large focus point in this painting.

The Role of Horns:

While both males and females have horns, it’s the males that have the huge and impressive ‘horn helmet’ proclaiming their superiority and helping them in battle. The area in the middle of the horns where the two horns meet is referred to as ‘bosses.’ Older males will have rock-hard rough bosses where young bulls still have hairy bosses. The impact of this ‘head to head’ fighting of the older bulls is absorbed through the ‘bosses.’


In conclusion, the buffalo painting “An unpredictable force” captures the drama and danger of the Cape (African) buffalo. These animals are an unpredictable force of nature that should be admired and respected.

The framed size of the Buffalo painting is 40” x 26”, and I hope it brings the same excitement and appreciation to others as it did to me.

Buffalo Painting on Exhibition

Mary Martin Galleries

Charleston USA

Buffalo painting for sale

“An unpredictable force”

Framed size: 40” x 26”

Feel free to contact me directly at art@ilsewildlife.co.za, or connect with me on Facebook (ILSE Wildlife) or Instagram (ilse_wildlife).

I look forward to hearing from you!

Previously Sold Buffalo Paintings by Ilse de Villiers

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