The water buffalo or domestic Asian water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) is a large bovine animal, frequently used as livestock in the Indian Subcontinent, and also widely in South America, southern Europe, northern Africa, and elsewhere.
In 2000, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimated there were approximately 158 million water buffalo in the world, with 97% of them (approximately 153 million animals) in Asia. There are established feral populations in northern Australia, but the dwindling true wild populations are thought to survive in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Thailand. All the domestic varieties and breeds descend from one common ancestor, the wild water buffalo, which is now an endangered species. The domestic water buffalo, although derived from the wild water buffalo, is the product of thousands of years of selective breeding in either the Indian Subcontinent or Southeast Asia.
Buffalo are used as draft, meat, and dairy animals. Their dung is used as a fertilizer, and as a fuel when dried. In the Chonburi of Thailand, Pakistan, and the southwestern region of Karnataka, India, there are annual water buffalo races known as kambala. A few have also found use as pack animals, carrying loads even for special forces.
The water buffalo genus includes water buffalo, tamaraw and anoas, all of which are Asian species. The ancestry of the African buffalo is unclear, but it is not believed to be closely related to the water buffalo.
Wild water buffalo
It is known as "water buffalo" because it is adapted to and enjoys being in water.
True wild water buffalo are thought to survive in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Thailand.
The IUCN Red List of threatened species classifies wild water buffalo (Bubalis arnee) as an endangered species in Southeast Asia. They run rampant as wild animals in the Northern Territory, Australia, which is the only part of the world where they are legally hunted because of their large numbers there. The total number of wild water buffalo left in Southeast Asia is thought to be less than 4,000, which suggests the number of mature individuals will be less than 2,500, and an estimated continuing decline of at least 20% within 14 years (about two generations) and at least 50% within 21 years seems likely, given the severity of the threats, especially hybridization with the abundant domestic Asian water buffalo, leading to genetic pollution.
Anatomy and morphology
Horn differences between Cape buffalo (above) and Asian water buffalo (below) An albino water buffalo in Chiang Mai province, Thailand Adult water buffalo range in size from for the domestic breeds, while the wild animals are nearly long and tall, weighing up to ; females are about two-thirds this size.
River buffalo are usually black, have curled horns, and are native to the western half of Asia, whereas swamp buffalo can be black, white or both, with long, gently curved, swept-back horns; they are native to the eastern half of Asia from India to Taiwan. The largest recorded horns are just under two metres long.
The rumen (the first chamber of the digestive system of a ruminant) of the water buffalo has important differences from that of other ruminants.
The water buffalo rumen has been found to contain a larger population of bacteria, particularly the cellulolytic bacteria, lower protozoa and higher fungi zoospores. In addition, higher rumen ammonia nitrogen (NH4-N) and higher pH have been found as compared to those in cattle.
The classification of the water buffalo is uncertain. Some authorities list a single species, Bubalus bubalis, with three subspecies, the river buffalo (B. bubalis bubalis) of the Indian Subcontinent, the carabao or swamp buffalo (B. bubalis carabanesis) of the Philippines and Southeast Asia, and the arni, or wild water buffalo (B. bubalis arnee). Others regard these as closely related, but separate, species. In 2003, the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature ruled in favor of keeping wild water buffaloes a separate taxon from river buffaloes. They are now usually referred to as Bubalus arnee, though the former usage is still acceptable for authors who consider them conspecific.
The swamp buffalo has 48 chromosomes; the river buffalo has 50 chromosomes. The two types do not readily interbreed, but fertile offspring can occur. Buffalo-cattle hybrids have not been observed to occur, and the embryos of such hybrids do not reach maturity in laboratory experiments.
Buffalo headcount in 2004
Type Locality: "Habitat in Asia, cultus in Italia". Restricted by Thomas (1911a:154) to Italy, Rome, but Linnaeus' (1758) comment indicates Asia (India?).
Water buffalo ploughing rice fields in Java
Distribution: Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, India (survives in Assam and Orissa), Nepal, northern Thailand, Vietnam, and possibly at least formerly in Laos; domesticated in North Africa, southern Europe, and even England, east to Indonesia and in eastern South America; supposedly feral populations in Sri Lanka, Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Philippines and other parts of SE Asia; feral populations resulting from introductions in New Britain and New Ireland (Bismarck Arch., Papua New Guinea), and Australia.
The average lifespan in captivity is up to 25 years.
Water Buffalo (Suigy ) by Katsushika Hokusai, ca. 1875
Asia is the native home of the water buffalo, with 95% of the world population, with about half of the total in India. Many Asian countries depend on the water buffalo as their primary bovine species. It is valuable for its meat and milk, as well as the labour it performs. As of 1992, the Asian population was estimated at 141 million. Buffalo milk has the lowest water content and highest fat content amongst farm animals, and the butterfat is a major source of ghee in some Asian countries. Its success in Asia is evident by its extensive range. Both variants occur in Asia. River buffalo are found in elevations of 2,800 m in Nepal, and swamp buffalo are found throughout the lowland tropics. Part of their success is due to their ability to thrive on poor foodstuffs and yet be valuable economically. Moreover, they are much better suited to plough the muddy paddy fields, as they are better adapted than common cattle (Bos taurus) to move in swamps. In India, buffalo populations are thriving because they are considered to be similar to the cattle, which are sacred to the Hindus. Some ethnic groups, such as Batak and Toraja in Indonesia and the Derung in China, use water buffalo or kerbau (called horbo in Batak or tedong in Toraja) as sacrificial animals at several festivals. Especially in the Tana Toraja Regency, a local variety of water buffalo (tedong bonga) features a unique black and white colouration.
Water buffalo on the side of a road in the Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve Swamp buffalo were introduced into the Northern Territory from Timor early in the 19th century as a food source and a beast of burden. They escaped, thrived and became feral, causing significant environmental damage. Buffalo are also found in Arnhem Land and the Top End. An estimated 350,000 buffalo were living on the floodplains of Arnhem Land and the Katherine region in the 1980s. As a result, they were hunted in the Top End from 1885 until 1980. The commencement of the Brucellosis and Tuberculosis Campaign (BTEC) resulted in a huge culling program to reduce buffalo herds to a fraction of the numbers that were reached in the 1980s. The BTEC was finished when the Northern Territory was declared free of the disease in 1997.
During the 1950s, buffalo were hunted for their skins and meat, which was exported and used in the local trade. In the late 1970s, live exports were made to Cuba and continued later into other countries. Buffalo are now crossed with riverine buffalo in artificial breeding (AI) programs, and may be found in many areas of Australia. Some of these crossbreds are used for milk production.
Melville Island is a popular hunting location, where a steady population of up to 4,000 individuals exist. Safari outfits are run out of Darwin to Melville Island and other locations in the Top End, often with the use of bush pilots. The horns, which can measure up to a record of 3.1 metres tip-to-tip, are prized hunting trophies.
The buffalo have developed a different appearance from the Indonesian buffalo from which they descend. They live mainly in freshwater marshes and billabongs, and their territory range can be quite expansive during the wet season. Their only natural predators in Australia are large adult saltwater crocodiles, with whom they share the billabongs, and dingoes, which have been known to prey on buffalo calves and occasionally adult buffalos when the dingoes are in large packs.
Europe and Middle East
Introduced into North Africa and the Near East by 600 AD, the water buffalo was brought to Europe with returning Crusaders in the Middle Ages, and herds can be found in Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Hungary, extreme south of Serbia, Austria and Italy. As in Asia, buffalo of the Middle East and Europe live on coarse vegetation on the marginal land traditionally available to peasants. They are an economic asset by serving as a protein source, draft animal, and storage of family or household wealth. In some areas, they also provide occasional recreation at annual racing festivals. These buffalo are mostly river buffalo; due to genetic isolation, they have adopted a distinct appearance. Buffalo milk is used for the production of buffalo mozzarella in Campania and many other locations around the world.
Murrah Buffalo in a Brazilian Farm There are very limited commercial herds in North America, for yogurt and cheese products. In Gainesville, Florida, a University of Florida professor, Hugh Popenoe, has raised water buffalo from young obtained from zoo overflow. He uses them primarily for meat production (frequently sold as hamburger), although other local ranchers use them for production of high-quality mozzarella cheese.
Water buffalo were introduced into the Amazon River basin in 1895. They are now extensively used there for meat and dairy production. In 2005, the buffalo herd in the Brazilian Amazon stood at approximately 1.6 million head, of which approximately 460,000 were located in the lower Amazon floodplain. Breeds used include Mediterranean (from Italy), Murrah (India), Jafarabadi (India) and Carabao (Philippines).
In Argentina, many game ranches raise water buffalo for commercial hunting.
Importance to humans
West Sumba]], Indonesia, 1936 (collection Tropenmuseum) Water buffalo dung]] is dried against the fa ade of a house in Yuanyang County, Yunnan, China There are many breeds of domestic water buffalo.
Water buffalo are used for ploughing in Si Phan Don, Laos.
Water buffalo have been domesticated for 5,000 years, and have become economically important animals. They provide more than 5% of the world s milk supply and 20% to 30% of the farm power in Southeast Asia. Milk from these animals is used by many human populations, and is the traditional raw material for mozzarella cheese and curd due to its higher fat content. In Africa and other locations, water buffalo milk is used for yoghurt, as in Vermont, USA. The chief dairy breed of buffalo is the Murrah breed. Buffalo meat, sometimes called "carabeef", is often passed off as beef in certain regions, and is also a major source of export revenue for India, which has the largest population of buffalo in the world. In many Asian regions, buffalo meat is less preferred due to its toughness; however, recipes have evolved (rendang, for example) where the slow cooking process and spices not only makes the meat palatable, but also preserves it, an important factor in hot climates where refrigeration is not always available. Water buffalo horns are used for the embouchure of musical instruments, such as ney and kaval. Water buffalo hide provides a tough and useful leather, often used for shoes and motorcycle helmets. The bones and horns are often made into jewelry, especially earrings.
The water buffalo has promise as a major source of meat, even the milking ones. The water buffalo also is the classic work animal in Asia, an integral part of that continent s traditional village farming structure, and also used for hauling cotton, pumping water in Pakistan and hauling logs in Turkey. The domesticated water buffalo is often referred to as the living tractor of the East , as it is relied upon for ploughing and transportation in many parts of Asia.
Milk Composition Analysis, per 100 grams
Adaptation and behavior
Semisubmerged buffalo Water buffalo spend much of their day submerged in the muddy waters of Asia s tropical and subtropical forests. They have wide-splayed hooves, which are used to prevent them from sinking too deeply in the mud. These adaptations allow them to move in wetlands and swamps. Water buffalo also prefer to feed in grasslands on grass and forbs.
Water buffalo behavior sometimes differs from cattle. For example, most water buffalo are not trained to be driven. Instead, the herdsman must walk alongside or ahead of them. They then instinctively follow. They also rub against trees more often than cattle do, and they sometimes debark the trees, causing them to die.
A water buffalo calf in India The water buffalo has a reputation for being a sluggish breeder. Without reasonable nutrition, the animals cannot reach puberty as early in life as genetic capability would normally allow. Females normally produce calves every other year after gestation of 9 to 11 months. Young bulls typically remain with maternal herds, which consist of around 30 buffalo, for three years after birth. They then go on to form small, all-male herds.
The water buffalo may affect the environment in either positive or negative ways.
Wildlife and conservation scientists have started to recommend and use introduced populations of feral water buffalo to manage uncontrolled vegetation growth in and around natural wetlands. Introduced Asian water buffalo at home in such environs provide cheap service by regularly grazing uncontrolled vegetation and opening up clogged water bodies for waterfowl, wetland birds and other wildlife. Grazing water buffalo are sometimes used in Great Britain for conservation grazing, for example to manage Chippenham Fen NNR. These buffalo have been found to be better suited to the wet conditions and poor-quality vegetation than many cattle.
Currently, research is being conducted at the Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies to determine the levels of nutrients removed and returned to wetlands when water buffalo are used for wetland vegetation management.
However, in uncontrolled circumstances, water buffalo can cause environmental damage, such as trampling vegetation, disturbing bird and reptile nesting sites, and spreading exotic weeds.
First cloned buffalo
The world's first cloned buffalo was developed by Indian scientists from National Dairy Research Institute, Karnal. The buffalo calf was named Samrupa. The calf did not survive more than a week, and died due to some genetic disorders. So, the scientists created another cloned buffalo a few months later, and named it Garima. 
On 15 September 2007, the Philippines announced its development of Southeast Asia's first cloned buffalo. The Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD), under the Department of Science and Technology in Los Ba os, Laguna approved this project. The Department of Agriculture's Philippine Carabao Center (PCC) will implement "Cloning through somatic cell nuclear transfer as a tool for genetic improvement in water buffaloes". "Super buffalo calves" will be produced. There will be no modification or alteration of the genetic materials, as in genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
On 1 January 2008, the Philippine Carabao Center in Nueva Ecija, per Filipino scientists, initiated a study to breed a super water buffalo that could produce 4 to 18 litres of milk/day using gene-based technology. Also, the first in vitro river buffalo was born there in 2004 from an in vitro-produced, vitrified embryo, named "Glory" after President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Joseph Estrada's most successful project as an opposition senator, the PCC was created through Republic Act 3707, the Carabao Act of 1992.
Ceramic water buffalo from 2300 BCE found in Lopburi, Thailand
- Legend has it that the Chinese philosophical sage Laozi left China through the Han Gu Pass riding a water buffalo.
- According to Hindu lore, the god of death Yama, rides on a male water buffalo.
- The carabao subspecies is considered a national symbol in the Philippines.
- In Vietnam, water buffalo are often the most valuable possession of poor farmers: "Con tr u l u c nghi p". They are treated as a member of the family: "Ch ng c y, v c y, con tr u i b a" ("The husband ploughs, the wife sows, water buffalo draws the rake") and are friends of the children. Children talk to their water buffalo, "Bao gi c y l a c n b ng. Th c n ng n c ngo i ng tr u n." (Vietnamese children are responsible for grazing water buffalo. They will feed them a lot of grass if they work laboriously for men.) In the old days, West Lake, H N i was named Kim Ng u - Golden Water Buffalo.
- The Yoruban Orisha Oya (goddess of change) takes the form of a water buffalo.
Some popular water buffalo festivals
An unstaged water buffalo fight
Moh juj Water Buffalo fighting is held every year in Bhogali Bihu in Assam. Ahotguri in Nagaon is famous for it.
- The Do Son Water Buffalo Fighting Festival of Vietnam, held each year on the ninth day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar at Do Son Township, Haiphong City in Vietnam, is one of the most popular Vietnam festivals and events in Haiphong City. The preparations for this buffalo fighting festival begin from the two to three months earlier. The competing buffalo are selected and methodically trained months in advance. It is a traditional festival of Vietnam attached to a Water God worshipping ceremony and the Hien Sinh custom to show martial spirit of the local people of Do Son, Haiphong.
"Hai Luu" Water Buffalo Fighting Festival of Vietnam According to ancient records, the buffalo fighting in Hai Luu Commune has existed from the 2nd century B.C. General Lu Gia at that time, had the buffalo slaughtered to give a feast to the local people and the warriors, and organized buffalo fighting for amusement. Eventually, all the fighting buffalo will be slaughtered as tributes to the deities.
"Ko Samui" Water Buffalo Fighting Festival of Thailand is a very popular event held on special occasions such as New Year's Day in January, and Songkran in mid-April, this festival features head-wrestling bouts in which two male Asian water buffalo are pitted against one another. Unlike in Spanish Bullfighting, wherein bulls get killed while fighting sword-wielding men, Buffalo Fighting Festival held at Ko Samui, Thailand is fairly harmless contest. The fighting season varies according to ancient customs & ceremonies. The first Buffalo to turn and run away is considered the loser, the winning buffalo becomes worth several million baht. Ko Samui is an island in the Gulf of Thailand in the South China Sea, it is 700 km from Bangkok and is connected to it by regular flights.
"Ma'Pasilaga Tedong" Water Buffalo Fighting Festival in Tana Toraja Regency of Sulawesi Island, Indonesia is a very popular event where the Rambu Solo' or a Burial Festival took place in Tana Toraja. It is very attractive moment before the buffalo are being sacrified.
Water buffalo racing at Babulang 2006
Chon Buri Water buffalo racing festival, Thailand: Thousands of people flock to this entertainment in downtown Chonburi, south of Bangkok, at the annual water buffalo festival. About 300 buffalo race in groups of five or six, spurred on by bareback jockeys wielding wooden sticks, as hundreds of spectators cheer. The water buffalo has always played an important role in agriculture in Thailand. For farmers of Chon Buri Province, near Bangkok, it is an important annual festival, beginning in mid-October. It is also a celebration among rice farmers before the rice harvest. At dawn, farmers walk their buffalo through surrounding rice fields, splashing them with water to keep them cool before leading them to the race field. This amazing festival started over a hundred years ago when two men arguing about whose buffalo was the fastest ended up having a race between them. That s how it became a tradition and gradually a social event for farmers who gathered from around the country in Chonburi to trade their goods. The festival also helps a great deal in preserving the number of buffalo, which have been dwindling at quite an alarming rate in other regions. Modern machinery is rapidly replacing buffalo in Thai agriculture. With most of the farm work mechanized, the buffalo-racing tradition has continued. Racing buffalo are now raised just to race; they do not work at all. The few farm buffalo which still do work are much bigger than the racers because of the strenuous work they perform. Farm buffalo are in the Buffalo Beauty Pageant , a Miss Farmer beauty contest and a comic buffalo costume contest etc.. This festival perfectly exemplifies a favored Thai attitude to life "sanuk," meaning fun.
Babulang Water buffalo racing festival, Sarawak, Malaysia: Babulang is the largest or grandest of the many rituals, ceremonies and festivals of the traditional Bisaya (Borneo) community of Limbang, Sarawak. Highlights are the Ratu Babulang competition and the Water buffalo races which can only be found in this town in Sarawak, Malaysia.
Vihear Suor village Water buffalo racing festival, Cambodia: Each year, millions of Cambodians visit Buddhist temples across the country to honor their deceased loved ones during a 15-day period commonly known as the Festival of the Dead but in Vihear Suor village, about northeast of the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, citizens each year wrap up the festival with a water buffalo race to entertain visitors and honour a pledge made hundreds of years ago. There was a time when many village cattle which provide rural Cambodians with muscle power to plough their fields and transport agricultural products died from an unknown disease. The villagers prayed to a spirit to help save their animals from the disease and promised to show their gratitude by holding a buffalo race each year on the last day of P'chum Ben festival as it is known in Cambodian. The race draws hundreds of spectators who come to see riders and their animals charge down the racing field, the racers bouncing up and down on the backs of their buffalo, whose horns were draped with colorful cloth.
Karapan Sapi racing festival, Madura, Indonesia: The Maduranese people of the island of Madura, East Java, Indonesia, race their strongest and fastest buffalo in races hold regularly a few times a year, typically in August, September and October. It is a very popular spectacle in the towns of Pamekasan, Sampang, and Bangkalan. Besides the prize (and the pride that comes with it), buffalo that win a race are regarded very valuable and are a lot more expensive than their peers. This motivates the owners to feed their buffalo unusual cocktails of high calorie food composed of raw eggs, honey, and herbs, in addition to their regular training regimen, to give them the edge.
Kambala races, Karnataka, India: The Kambala water buffalo races of Karnataka, India take place between December and March. The races are conducted by having the water buffalo run in long parallel slushy ditches, where they are driven by men standing on wooden planks drawn by the buffaloes. The objectives of the race are to finish first and to raise the water to the greatest height.
Pottu puttu matsaram, Kerala, South India: Similar to Kambala races.
- African buffalo (Wild)
- List of Domestic Asian Water buffalo breeds
- Sacred cows of India
- Toda people
- Water buffalo rumen ecology
- Wild water buffalo
- Zebu, the common breed of domestic cattle from India
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