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Water Buffalo

Bubalus bubalis

Photo: Water buffalo

Photo: Water buffalo (View larger version)

Photograph by Bruce Dale

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The water buffalo, or Asian buffalo, as it is often called, is the largest member of the Bovini tribe, which includes yak, bison, African buffalo, various species of wild cattle, and others.

Standing 5 to 6.2 feet (1.5 to 1.9 meters) tall at the shoulder, wild water buffalo are formidable mammals with sparse gray-black coats. Males carry enormous backward-curving, crescent-shaped horns stretching close to 5 feet (1.5 meters) long with deep ridges on their surface. Females are smaller in size and weight, but they also have horns, although they are proportionately smaller.

Water buffalo spend much of their day submerged in the muddy waters of Asia’s tropical and subtropical forests. Their wide-splayed hoofed feet prevent them from sinking too deeply in the mud and allow them to move about in wetlands and swamps. These marshes provide good cover and rich aquatic plants to forage on, although water buffalo actually prefer to feed in grasslands on grass and herbs.

Females normally produce calves every other year, after a 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.

Water buffalo have been domesticated for more than 5,000 years. They have buttressed humanity’s survival with their meat, horns, hides, milk, butterfat, and power, plowing and transporting people and crops.

Wild water buffalo are endangered and live only in a small number of protected areas stretching across India, Nepal, and Bhutan, and a wildlife reserve in Thailand. And populations are likely to diminish as they are interbred with domesticated water buffalo.

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