April 29, 2006

Brazil’s army drafts water buffalo for Amazon role

By Terry Wade

SAO PAULO, Brazil (Reuters) - Brazil's army has started
drafting a low-tech but effective transporter for its Amazon
operations to complement its modern military arsenal -- water

The sturdy horned animals can easily carry supplies and
munitions in remote areas where there are no roads, fuel is
scarce, or rivers are too shallow to navigate, officers say.

"The buffalo have had excellent operational results and
increased the distances we can cover," General Eduardo Dias da
Costa Villas Boas, the chief of the Brazilian Army in the
Amazon, said on Friday.

They weigh about 500 kg (1,100 pounds) and can carry the
same amount, he added.

Brazil has some 27 military bases securing its rugged
Amazon border, a dangerous frontier abutting seven nations that
stretches 11,200 km (6,800 miles) -- three times the length of
the U.S. border with Mexico.

The army has to contend with diamond smugglers, cocaine
traffickers, clashes between loggers and Indians, and Colombian
guerrillas who sometimes hide out in Brazilian territory.

Supplies arrive at the bases by plane or boat, but to reach
outlying training and patrol operations, they must be moved
along narrow trails through thick jungle.

Other pack animals, such as mules, were considered but they
would have needed special food and been more prone to disease.

Each base along the border was sent three water buffalo
last year. The program will be expanded once tests of newly
designed cargo packs are completed.

The Army gets the docile and disease-resistant animals from
Marajo Island, a land mass the size of Switzerland at the mouth
of the Amazon River. Portuguese settlers brought them to Brazil
from Asia centuries ago.

"They don't require gasoline or special food. Buffalo eat
anything," Villas Boas said.