The Water buffalo or domestic water buffalo is a large bovid native to the Indian subcontinent and China. There are two types of domestic water buffalo – the River buffalo and the Swamp buffalo. The skin of River buffalo is black, but some specimens may have dark, slate-colored 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; their body is short and the belly is large.
The forehead is flat, the eyes are prominent, the face is short, and the muzzle is 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.
In this article, Pritish Kumar Halder discusses the lifestyle, habits, and diet of Water Buffalo or Domestic Water buffalo.
Water buffalo originate in the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and China. Today, they are also found in Europe, Australia, North America, South America, and some African countries. River buffalo occur in the Indian subcontinent and further west to the Balkans, Egypt, and Italy, and Swamp buffalo are found from Assam in the west through Southeast Asia to the Yangtze valley of China in the east.
Water buffalo inhabit tropical forests and wet grasslands, riverine forests, marshes, swamps. As their name suggests they require an environment with adequate water for wallowing and drinking. Some breeds are adapted to saline seaside shores and saline sandy terrain.
The skin of the river buffalo is black, but some specimens may have dark, slate-coloured skin. Swamp buffaloes have a grey skin at birth, but become slate blue later. Albinoids are present in some populations. River buffaloes have comparatively longer faces, smaller girths, and bigger limbs than swamp buffaloes. Their dorsal ridges extend further back and taper off more gradually. Their horns grow downward and backward, then curve upward in a spiral. Swamp buffaloes 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. Body size and shape of horns may vary greatly among breeds.
Average height at the withers are is 129–133 cm (51–52 in) for males, and 120–127 cm (47–50 in) for females, but large individuals may attain 160 cm (63 in). Head-lump length at maturity typically ranges 240–300 cm (94–118 in) with a 60–100 cm (24–39 in) long tail. They range in weight from 300–550 kg (660–1,210 lb), but weights of over 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) and 1,100 kg (2,400 lb) have also been observed.
Tedong bonga is a piebald water buffalo featuring a unique black and white colouration that is favoured by the Toraja of Sulawesi.
The swamp buffalo has 48 chromosomes; the river buffalo has 50 chromosomes. The two types do not readily interbreed, but fertile offspring can occur. Water buffalo-cattle hybrids have not been observed to occur, but the embryos of such hybrids reach maturity in laboratory experiments, albeit at lower rates than non-hybrids.
The rumen of the water buffalo differs from the rumen 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, compared to those in cattle.
Habits and Lifestyle
Water buffalo are terrestrial animals but are very dependent on water. They spend most of their time wallowing in rivers or mud holes. River buffalo prefer deep water while Swamp buffalo prefer to wallow in mudholes which they make with their horns. During wallowing, they acquire a thick coating of mud that protects the buffalo skin from sunburn and biting insects and also keeps them cool.
Water buffalo are social and live in herds of up to 30 individuals. Herds usually consist of adult females, their calves, and sub-adult females. Young males leave female herds when they are around 3 years old and form bachelor herds. Water buffalo are both diurnal and nocturnal. They usually feed in the morning and evening. During the midday heat, they rest in the shade, wallow in mud holes, or stay submerged in water with only their nostrils and eyes exposed.
During floods, they graze submerged, raising their heads above the water and carrying quantities of edible plants. Water buffalo communicate with each other with the help of snorts and grunts. Males also stamp on the ground to show dominance or as a means of defense.
Diet and Nutrition
Water buffalo are herbivores. They feed on aquatic plants, grasses, reeds, herbs, leaves and other vegetation.
Water buffalo have a polygynous mating system in which males breed with more than one female. They generally breed year-round. Females usually give birth to a single calf every two years. The gestation period lasts 300-320 days.
Calves are born red to brown in color and weigh 35 to 40 kg. Females protect and nurse their calves from 6 to 9 months. At the age of 3 young males become reproductively mature and disperse. Young females remain in the herd where they were born and reach reproductive maturity when they are 1,5 years old.
According to Wikipedia resource, the total population of Water buffalo in 2011 was about 172 million individuals.
Water buffalo have a herbivorous diet and feed on various vegetation. Some of these plants are of great value to local people but others are a major problem in some tropical valleys and Water buffalo may help to keep waterways clear.