Water buffalo, or Asian buffalo, are believed to have originated in Asia, but have been introduced to Africa, Australia, Europe and North America. Wild water buffalo inhabit tropical and subtropical forests. They live in swamps, grasslands, savannas, lowland floodplains, glades and mixed forests – never far from water.
Water buffalo spend much of their time submerged in muddy waters to keep cool and to remove parasites, flies and other pests. Water buffalo hooves are spread out to keep them from sinking into the mud. They are large members of the Bovidae family, the same family as wild cows, the American bison, the African buffalo, the zebu and the yak. The water buffalo is the second largest wild cattle species in the world.
Water buffaloes are black or white in color. They have large, distinctive, curved horns. Males have larger horns than females and are about a third larger than female water buffaloes. The horns of male water buffaloes are crescent-shaped with a ridge along the body of the horns.
Water buffalo live in herds of a few buffalo to hundreds of buffalo. Living in communities provides better protection against predators. Wild buffalo communicate using low grunts and calls. Water buffalo are social animals and are not territorial. Herds are usually led by a dominant, older, female – often accompanied by a single adult male. Water buffalo can be active during the day or night, with feeding usually occurring in the late afternoon and evening.
Water buffaloes are herbivores, feeding on a purely vegetarian diet. Water buffaloes eat aquatic plants when they are in water, but often leave the water to find grasses, herbs and leaves.
Water buffaloes once engaged in long-distance seasonal migrations. They now occupy stable home ranges. Water buffalo travel in single-file, lead by a female adult with calves in the middle and the remaining adults in the rear.
Water buffalo mating season takes place during the rainy season. Males may be aggressive with each other to earn females. After mating, a female water buffalo will chase away the male. The male water buffalo will then seek other females to mate with. Female water buffaloes have one baby every couple of years, following a gestation period of 9 to 11 months. Baby water buffaloes stay with their mother for several years. After about three years, male water buffaloes join all male water buffalo communities. Female water buffaloes often remain with their mother's herd. Older males may lead a more solitary life, or live near female communities.
Water buffalo are preyed upon by large predators including lions, tigers and crocodiles. Their horns are used to protect them against predators. Water buffalo can also run very fast when faced with danger. They are extremely protective of their calves. Female water buffalo will form protective lines in front of their young when threatened by predators. If the threat continues, they flee into forests, tall grass or water.
Water buffaloes can survive over 25 years in the wild and in captivity.
THREATS TO WATER BUFFALOES
Wild water buffaloes are an endangered species due to loss of habitat and hunting, with less than 4,000 remaining. Their numbers are also diminishing as they are interbred with domesticated water buffalo.
The water buffalo has been domesticated by humans for thousands of years and is inhumanely used to pull heavy machinery, carry heavy loads, plow and transport people. Water buffalo are commercially farmed around the globe for their milk, skin, butterfat and meat.