Water buffalo

Bubalus bubalis

TAXONOMY

Bubalus bubalis (Linnaeus, 1758), Asia. OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: Asian buffalo; French: Buffle de l'Inde; German: Wasserbüffel.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Body length 98.4-118.1 in (250-300 cm); shoulder height 59-74.4 in (150-189 cm); tail length 23.6-39.3 in (60-100 cm); weight 1,543-2,645 lb (700-1,200 kg). Females are slightly smaller and weight about 20% less than males. The largest member of the Bovinae, it is a heavy, bulky animal with disproportionately large feet, whose wide hooves help it avoid sinking too deeply in the mud as it moves about wetlands and swamps. Pelage of wild water buffalo, although somewhat sparse, is dark gray to black; domesticated forms can exhibit a range of coat colors. The relatively long tail ends with a bushy tuft of black hairs. Males have massive crescent-shaped pointed horns about 47.2 in (120 cm) long that are almost triangular in cross-section and with heavy ridges on their surface. With the flattened side of the triangular horn facing upward, the horns extend back, almost parallel with the slope of the face. Females also have horns, which after adjusting for their smaller size, are relatively the same size as in males. Domesticated water buffalo have much smaller bodies, almost one-half the size, and also smaller horns than the wild form.

DISTRIBUTION

In the mid-twentieth century, they occurred in two regions. In one region, they were distributed from central peninsular India, north to Nepal, and east to Bhutan. In the second region, they occurred on the Malay Peninsula and north and east to Vietnam, with some on the north portion of the Island of Borneo. This distribution is now severely contracted and fragmented. Currently, wild populations exist in only a few protected areas in India, Nepal, and Bhutan. Another small population occurs in a wildlife reserve in Thailand.

HABITAT

Inhabit tropical and subtropical forests and grassland biomes. Within these biomes, they are closely associated with water and surrounding habitats ranging from lowland swamps to forests, woodlands, and grasslands, and swamps along alluvial plains. These riparian habitats are a mix of tall, dense grasslands interspersed with open forests, side streams, and small lakes surrounded by short grasses. This complex of habitat types provides abundant forage, as well as forest or dense thickets for cover, along with water, not only to drink, but also for creating muddy wallows in which they spend long periods of the day partially submerged.

BEHAVIOR

In early studies made in the Assam region of northwestern India, they formed herds of 10-20 individuals, although up to 100 animals were observed in some groups; these groups were very cohesive. In northern Australia, feral buffalo are abundant and likely exhibit social behavior similar to that expected for wild buffalo in their natural range. Adult females, their young, and sub-adult females form small groups of up to 30 members. Around three years of age, males leave these maternal groups to form all-male groups of up to 10 young bulls. Old males tend to be solitary. Several maternal groups are often loosely organized into a larger herd that together occupy a common home range and may come together nightly. Can frequently be found for long periods during the day immersed in water or lying in muddy wallows.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Primarily grazers, they consume large quantities of grasses, but also eat herbs, aquatic plants, and other vegetation from among the highly productive grasslands and marshes in their home range.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Polygynous. After a gestation of 300-340 days, cows give birth to a reddish brown to yellow-brown calf. Normally, only one calf is born, but occasionally females will give birth to twins. They nurse for 6-9 months. The female typically produces one calf every second year. Females can first mate when 1.5 years old. Males usually do not leave maternal herds until three years old. In some areas, mating and birth show little seasonal periodicity. This can result in calves being found at any time of the year within a herd. In other areas where there are seasonal differences to forage supplies, there can be more distinct mating and birthing periods.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Classified as Endangered. While domesticated water buffalo are very abundant and distributed well beyond their natural historic range, there are probably fewer than 4,000 wild water buffalo left in the world, most of which are in Assam, India. Within the near future, the species faces a high risk of extinction in the wild. Existing populations are very small and restricted to a few nature reserves, most of which are widely separated from each other. The main threats to the species are from hunting and from encroachment by agriculture and livestock. As well, the wild water buffalo is threatened by hybridization with domesticated forms and by diseases transmitted from domestic livestock.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Offer food, hides, and other products to humans. However, their most significant value to humans began 6,000 to 7,000 years ago when they were first domesticated in China near the mouth of the Yangtze River. One of the most important do mesticated species in southern and eastern Asia, they are also important in most other subtropical and tropical parts of the world. Large feral populations are established in places such as Australia. Domestic water buffalo continue to provide, in addition to meat, horn, and hides, milk and butter fat. They also provide low cost, accessible sources of power for plowing fields and transportation of people and their crops. ♦

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