The water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) is a large bovine animal native to Asian countries; from where it has been introduced in Africa, Australia, America, Egypt, and other European countries. As per the data compiled by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, around 97 percent of their population is in Asia (2000). Hence, it is commonly referred to as Asian buffalo. It has been domesticated for meat, milk, horns, hides, transportation, and also, for performing farming activities since a long time.
The coat color of a water buffalo is dull gray; the hair are short, stiff, and scanty. The domesticated breed measures to about 5 - 6.2 feet at the shoulder height. On an average, an adult buffalo weighs about 500 - 900 kilograms. As expected, the wild water buffalo is much taller (about 6.6 feet) and heavier (about 1,200 kg) than the domesticated one.
The male buffalo is larger in size (height and weight) than the female. Other than the size difference, the main distinguishing features of a male buffalo are the presence of deep ridges on the body, and long backward curving, crescent-shaped horns that grow to about 5 feet long. Though a female possesses horns, they are quite shorter than that of a male.
Water Buffalo Types
Based on the area of occurrence, the water buffalo is grouped into different categories. The African water buffalo includes two forms of the same species (Syncerus caffer), namely, the cape water buffalo and dwarf forest water buffalo. The former type is much larger in size than the latter type. Unlike the Asian water buffalo, both the African forms are not domesticated due to their dangerous nature.
Habitat and Adaptation
As these buffaloes are naturally adapted to stay submerged in water, their occurrence in a particular habitat depends on the water availability. One of the adaptive features of a water buffalo for spending in muddy and swampy areas is the spreading hoofed feet. The feet prevent them from sinking deep in the mud and also, to move freely in wetlands and swamps. In case of water scarcity, they usually migrate in herds.
Diet and Feeding
The Asian buffalo is a true herbivore, which feeds on a wide variety of grasses, herbs, and other green vegetation. Since they spend most of the time in marshes and swamps, aquatic plants make up most of its diet. One can spot herds of this bovine animal in grasslands too. Being a ruminant animal, its digestive system is specifically modified for digestion of plant-based food.
Reproduction and Calf
A female matures after about 4 - 5 years, after which it gives birth to one calf in alternate years. The gestation period of water buffalo is about 9 - 11 months. The female continues to suckle the young calves for more than a year. For about 3 - 4 years, the young calves remain together with their mother. After about 3 years, the male calf leave its mother and stay along with other male herds.
The meat of a water buffalo is very tough, hence is usually cooked by slow cooking methods. Speaking about the milk, it accounts to about 5 percent of the world's milk supply. Due to high fat content in the milk, it is an ideal base ingredient for preparation of yogurt, cheese, and other dairy products. Its horns are used for making indigenous musical instruments, while the hides are used as a leather source. The feces of this bovine mammal is also used as an eco-friendly fertilizer.
In the wild, the predators of water buffalo are tigers, lions, and crocodiles. This coupled with the degradation of natural habitat and excessive hunting for meat are responsbile for the rapid declining population of the wild water buffalo (scientific name Bubalis arnee). As per the wildlife conservationists, the number of wild water buffaloes has reduced to about 20 percent in the last 14 years. Today, it is included in the IUCN Red Data list for endangered species. Nevertheless, domesticated water buffaloes can be found in different parts of Asia. In captivity, they live for nearly 25 years.