|Female water buffalo and calf|
|Global distribution of buffalo in 2004|
The water buffalo or domestic Asian water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) is a large bovid originating in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and China. Today, it is also found in Europe, Australia, and some American countries. The wild water buffalo (Bubalus arnee) native to Southeast Asia is considered a different species, but most likely represents the ancestor of the domestic water buffalo.
Two extant types of water buffalo are recognized based on morphological and behavioural criteria – the river buffalo of South Asia and further west to the Balkans, Egypt, and Italy, and the swamp buffalo, found from Assam in the west through Southeast Asia to the Yangtze valley of China in the east. The origins of the domestic water buffalo types are debated, although results of a phylogenetic study indicate that the swamp type may have originated in China and was domesticated about 4,000 years ago, while the river type may have originated from India and was domesticated about 5,000 years ago. Water buffalo were traded from the Indus Valley Civilisation, in modern Pakistan, to Mesopotamia, in modern Iraq, 2500 BC by the Meluhhas. The seal of a scribe employed by an Akkadian king shows the sacrifice of water buffalo.
Water buffalo are especially suitable for tilling rice fields, and their milk is richer in fat and protein than that of dairy cattle. The large feral population of northern Australia became established in the late 19th century, and smaller feral herds are in New Guinea, Tunisia, and northeastern Argentina. There are at least 130 million domestic water buffalo, and more human beings depend on them than on any other domestic animal.
- 1 Characteristics
- 2 Ecology and behavior
- 3 Taxonomic history
- 4 Domestication and breeding
- 5 Distribution of populations
- 6 Husbandry
- 7 Environmental effects
- 8 Research
- 9 In culture
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
- 13 External links
The skin of river buffalo is black, but some specimens may have dark slate-coloured skin. Swamp buffalo have a grey skin at birth, but become slate blue later. Albinoids are present in some populations. River buffalo have comparatively longer faces, smaller girths, and bigger limbs than swamp buffalo. Their dorsal ridges extend further back and taper off more gradually. Their horns grow downward and backward, then curve upward in a spiral. Swamp buffalo are heavy-bodied and stockily built; the body is short and the belly large. The forehead is flat, the eyes prominent, the face short, and the muzzle wide. The neck is comparatively long, and the withers and croup are prominent. A dorsal ridge extends backward and ends abruptly just before the end of the chest. Their horns grow outward, and curve in a semicircle, but always remain more or less on the plane of the forehead. The tail is short, reaching only to the hocks. Height at withers is 129–133 cm (51–52 in) for males, and 120–127 cm (47–50 in) for females. They range in weight from 300–550 kg (660–1,210 lb), but weights of over 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) have also been observed.
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.
The rumen of the water buffalo has important differences from that of other ruminants. It contains 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.
Ecology and behavior
River buffalo prefer deep water. Swamp buffalo prefer to wallow in mudholes which they make with their horns. During wallowing, they acquire a thick coating of mud. Both are well adapted to a hot and humid climate with temperatures ranging from 0 °C (32 °F) in the winter to 30 °C (86 °F) and greater in the summer. Water availability is important in hot climates since they need wallows, rivers, or splashing water to assist in thermoregulation. Some breeds are adapted to saline seaside shores and saline sandy terrain.
Water buffalo thrive on many aquatic plants and during floods, will graze submerged, raising their heads above the water and carrying quantities of edible plants. They eat reeds (quassab), a giant reed (birdi), a kind of bulrush (kaulan), water hyacinth, and marsh grasses. Some of these plants are of great value to local peoples. Others, such as water hyacinth, are a major problem in some tropical valleys, and water buffalo may help to keep waterways clear.
Green fodders are used widely for intensive milk production and for fattening. Many fodder crops are conserved as hay, chaffed, or pulped. Fodders include alfalfa, berseem and bancheri, the leaves, stems or trimmings of banana, cassava, fodder beet, halfa, ipil-ipil and kenaf, maize, oats, pandarus, peanut, sorghum, soybean, sugarcane, bagasse, and turnips. Citrus pulp and pineapple wastes have been fed safely to buffalo. In Egypt, whole sun-dried dates are fed to milk-buffalo up to 25% of the standard feed mixture.
Swamp buffalo generally become reproductive at an older age than river breeds. Young males in Egypt, India, and Pakistan are first mated at about 3.0–3.5 years of age, but in Italy they may be used as early as 2 years of age. Successful mating behaviour may continue until the animal is 12 years or even older. A good river male can impregnate 100 females in a year. A strong seasonal influence on mating occurs. Heat stress reduces libido.
Although buffalo are polyoestrous, their reproductive efficiency shows wide variation throughout the year. Buffalo cows exhibit a distinct seasonal change in displaying oestrus, conception rate, and calving rate. The age at first oestrus of heifers varies between breeds from 13–33 months, but mating at the first oestrus is often infertile and usually deferred until they are 3 years old. Gestation lasts from 281–334 days, but most reports give a range between 300 and 320 days. Swamp buffalo carry their calves for one or two weeks longer than river buffalo. It is not rare to find buffalo that continue to work well at the age of 30, and instances of a working life of 40 years are recorded.
Carl Linnaeus first described the genus Bos and the water buffalo under the binomial Bubalis bubalus in 1758; the latter was known to occur in Asia and as a domestic form in Italy. Ellerman and Morrison-Scott treated the wild and domestic forms of the water buffalo as conspecifics whereas others treated them as different species. The nomenclatorial treatment of wild and domestic forms has been inconsistent and varies between authors and even within the works of single authors.
In March 2003, the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature achieved consistency in the naming of wild and domestic water buffalo by ruling that the scientific name Bubalus arnee is valid for the wild form. Bubalus bubalis continues to be valid for the domestic form and applies also to feral populations.
Domestication and breeding
Water buffalo were domesticated in India about 5000 years ago, and in China about 4000 years ago. Two types are recognized, based on morphological and behavioural criteria – the river buffalo of the Indian subcontinent and further west to the Balkans and Italy, and the swamp buffalo, found from Assam in the west through Southeast Asia to the Yangtze valley of China in the east. The present day river buffalo is the result of complex domestication processes involving more than one maternal lineage and a significant maternal gene flow from wild populations after the initial domestication events. Twenty-two breeds of the river type water buffalo are known, including Murrah, Nili-Ravi, Surti, Jafarabadi, Anatolian, Mediterranean, and Egyptian buffalo. China has a huge variety of buffalo genetic resources, comprising 16 local swamp buffalo breeds in various regions.
Results of mitochondrial DNA analyses indicate that the two types were domesticated independently. Sequencing of cytochrome b genes of Bubalus species implies that the domestic buffalo originated from at least two populations, and that the river and the swamp types have differentiated at the full species level. The genetic distance between the two types is so large that a divergence time of about 1.7 million years has been suggested. The swamp type was noticed to have the closest relationship with the tamaraw.
Distribution of populations
The water buffalo population in the world is about 172 million.
More than 95.8% of the world population of water buffalo are found in Asia including both river and swamp types. The water buffalo population in India numbered over 97.9 million head in 2003 representing 56.5% of the world population. They are primarily of the river type with 10 well-defined breeds comprising Badhawari, Murrah, Nili-Ravi, Jafarabadi, Marathwada, Mehsana, Nagpuri, Pandharpuri, Toda and Surti. Swamp buffalo occur only in small areas in the north-eastern part of the country and are not distinguished into breeds.
In 2003, the second largest population lived in China with 22.759 million heads, all of the swamp type with breeds kept only in the lowlands, and other breeds kept only in the mountains; as of 2003 there were 3.2 million swamp type Carabao buffalo in the Philippines, nearly three million swamp buffalo in Vietnam, and 772,764 buffalo in Bangladesh. About 750,000 head were estimated in Sri Lanka in 1997.
The water buffalo is the main dairy animal in Pakistan with 23.47 million head in 2010. Of these, 76% are kept in the Punjab. Breeds comprise Nili-Ravi, Kundi and Azi Kheli. Karachi has the largest population of water buffalos for an area where fodder is not grown, consisting of 350,000 head kept mainly for milking.
In Thailand, the number of water buffalo dropped from more than 3 million heads in 1996 to less than 1.24 million heads in 2011. Slightly over 75% of them are kept in the country's northeastern region. The statistics also indicate that by the beginning of 2012, there were less than one million in the country, partly as a result of illegal shipments to neighboring countries where sales prices are higher than in Thailand.
Water buffalo are also present in the southern region of Iraq, in the marshes. These marshes were drained by Saddam Hussein in 1991 in an attempt to punish the south for the uprisings of 1991. Following 2003, and the fall of the Saddam regime, these lands were re-flooded and a 2007 report in the provinces of Maysan and Thi Qar shows a steady increase in the number of water buffalo. The report puts the number at 40,008 heads in those two provinces. 
In Europe and the Mediterranean
It is generally considered that water buffalo were introduced to Europe from India or other Oriental countries. To Italy they were introduced about the year 600 in the reign of the Longobard King Agilulf. As they appear in the company of wild horses, it seems probable that they were a present from the Khan of the Avars, a Turkic nomadic tribe that dwelt near the Danube River at the time. Sir H. Johnston knew of a herd of water buffalo presented by a King of Naples to the Bey of Tunis in the mid 19th century that had resumed the feral state in northern Tunis.
European buffalo are all of the river type and considered to be of the same breed named Mediterranean buffalo. In Italy the Mediterranean type was particularly selected and is called Mediterranean Italian breed to distinguish it from other European breeds, which differ genetically. Mediterranean buffalos are also found in Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Albania, Kosovo and Republic of Macedonia, and a few hundred in the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Hungary. There has been little exchange of breeding buffalo among countries, therefore each population has its own phenotypic features and performances. In Bulgaria, they were crossbred with the Indian Murrah breed, and in Romania some were crossbred with Bulgarian Murrah. Populations in Turkey are of the Anatolian buffalo breed.
Between 1824 and 1849, water buffalos were introduced into the Northern Territory from Timor, Kisar and probably other islands in the Indonesian archipelago. In 1886, a few milking types were brought from India to Darwin. They have been the main grazing animals on the sub-coastal plains and river basins between Darwin and Arnhem Land since the 1880s. In the early 1960s, an estimated population of 150,000 to 200,000 buffalos were living in the plains and nearby areas.
They became feral and are causing significant environmental damage. Buffalo are also found in the Top End. 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. Numbers dropped dramatically as a result of the campaign, but have since recovered to an estimated 150,000 animals across northern Australia in 2008.
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 m (10 ft) 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.
Buffalos were exported live to Indonesia until 2011, at a rate of about 3000 per year. After the live export ban that year, the exports dropped to zero, and had not resumed as of June 2013.
In South America
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 and Jafarabadi from India, and Carabao from the Philippines.
In North America
In 1974, four water buffalo were imported to the United States from Guam to be studied at the University of Florida. In February 1978, the first herd arrived for commercial farming. Until 2002, there was only one commercial breeder in the United States. Water buffalo meat is imported from Australia. Until 2011, water buffalo were raised in Gainesville, Florida, from young obtained from zoo overflow. They were used primarily for meat production, frequently sold as hamburger. Other local ranchers use them for production of high-quality mozzarella cheese.
The husbandry system of water buffalo depends on the purpose for which they are bred and maintained. Most of them are kept by people who work on small farms in family units. Their buffalo live in very close association with them, and are often their greatest capital asset. The women and girls in India generally look after the milking buffalo while the men and boys are concerned with the working animals. Throughout Asia, they are commonly tended by children who are often seen leading or riding their charges to wallowing places. Water buffalo are the ideal animals for work in the deep mud of paddy fields because of their large hoofs and flexible foot joints. They are often referred to as “the living tractor of the East”. It is generally accepted that it is possible to plough deeper with buffalo than with either oxen or horses. They are the most efficient and economic means of cultivation of small fields. In most rice-producing countries, they are used for threshing and for transporting the sheaves during the rice harvest. They provide power for oilseed mills, sugarcane presses and devices for raising water. They are widely used as pack animals, and in India and Pakistan also for heavy haulage. In their invasions of Europe, the Turks used buffalo for hauling heavy battering rams. Their dung is used as a fertilizer, and as a fuel when dried.
Buffalo contribute 72 million tones of milk and three million tones of meat annually to world food, much of it in areas that are prone to nutritional imbalances. In India river type buffalo are kept mainly for milk production and for transport, whereas swamp type buffalo are kept mainly for work and a very small amount of milk.
Water buffalo milk presents physicochemical features different from that of other ruminant species, such as a higher content of fatty acids and proteins. The physical and chemical parameters of swamp and river type water buffalo milk differ. Water buffalo milk contains higher levels of total solids, crude protein, fat, calcium, phosphorus and slightly higher content of lactose compared with those of cow milk. The high level of total solids makes water buffalo milk ideal for processing into value added dairy products such as cheese. The conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) content in milk ranged from 4.4 mg/g fat in September to 7.6 mg/g fat in June. Seasons and genetics may play a role in variation of CLA level and changes in gross composition of the water buffalo milk.
- cream churns much faster at higher fat levels and gives higher overrun than cow cream;
- butter from water buffalo cream displays more stability than that from cow cream;
- ghee from water buffalo milk has a different texture with a bigger grain size than ghee from cow milk;
- heat-concentrated milk products in Indian subcontinent include paneer, khoa, rabri, kheer and basundi;
- fermented milk products include dahi, yogurt, chakka;
- whey is used for making Ricotta and Mascarpone in Italy, and Alkarish in Syria and Egypt;
- soft cheeses include Mozzarella in Italy, Karish, Mish and Domiati in Egypt, Madhfor in Iraq, Alghab in Syria, Vladeasa in Romania;
- the semi-hard cheese Beyaz peynir is made in Turkey;
- hard cheeses include Braila in Romania, Rahss in Egypt, White brine in Bulgaria and Akkawi in Syria;
- watered-down buffalo milk is used as a cheaper alternative to regular milk;
|Top ten buffalo milk producers — 11 June 2008|
|India||56,960,000||Unofficial, Semi-official, mirror data|
|People's Republic of China||2,900,000||FAO estimate|
|World||85 396 902|
Meat and skin products
Water 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. 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.
Bone and horn products
Wildlife and conservation scientists have started to recommend and use introduced populations of feral domestic water buffalo in far away lands to manage uncontrolled vegetation growth in and around natural wetlands. Introduced water buffalo at home in such environs provide cheap service by regularly grazing the 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, such as in Chippenham Fen National Nature Reserve. It was found that the buffalos can better adapt to wet conditions and poor-quality vegetation than 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.
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 Baños, 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 buffalo. "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 per 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.
- 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 trâu là đầu cơ nghiệp". They are treated as a member of the family: "Chồng cày, vợ cấy, con trâu đi bừa" ("The husband ploughs, the wife sows, water buffalo draws the rake") and are friends of the children. Children talk to their water buffalo, "Bao giờ cây lúa còn bông. Thì còn ngọn cỏ ngoài đồng trâu ăn." (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, Hà Nội was named Kim Ngưu - Golden Water Buffalo.
- The Yoruban Orisha Oya (goddess of change) takes the form of a water buffalo.
- Moh juj Water Buffalo fighting, is held every year in Bhogali Bihu in Assam. Ahotguri in Nagaon is famous for it.
- 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.
- Kambala races of Karnataka, India, take place between December and March. The races are conducted by having the water buffalo (he buffalo) run in long parallel slushy ditches, where they are driven by men standing on wooden planks drawn by the buffalo. The objectives of the race are to finish first and to raise the water to the greatest height and also a rural sport. Kambala races are arranged with competition as well as without competition and as a part of thanks giving (to god) in about 50 villages of coastal Karnataka.
- In the Chonburi Province of Thailand, and in Pakistan, there are annual water buffalo races.
- Chon Buri Water buffalo racing festival, Thailand In downtown Chonburi, 70 km (43 mi) south of Bangkok, at the annual water buffalo festival held in mid-October. 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, 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, in Cambodia, each year, people 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 22 miles (35 km) northeast of Cambodia, 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.
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