The Water Buffalo is a very large ungulate (hoofed) and a member of the bovine subfamily. The Arni or Wild Buffalo survives in the wild in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Vietnam and Thailand. The domestic Buffalo are very widespread in Asia, South America, North Africa and Europe. They are feral in northern Australia. Wild-living populations also exist in much of South-east Asia but their origins are uncertain. They may be descendants of wild Water Buffalo, formerly domesticated ferals or a mixture. In Asia, the population of wild Water Buffalo has become sparse, and there is fear that no purebred wild water buffalo exists. Adult Water Buffalo range in size from 661 lbs to 13322.7 lbs (300 kg to 600 kg) for the domestic bred, but true wild water buffaloes can grow larger. Adult females typically weigh around 1763.6 lbs (800 kg), and males up to 1.3 tons (1200 kg). The average weight of an adult male is 1 ton (900 kg), and the average height at the shoulder is about 5.5 ft (1.7m). One distinction between wild buffaloes and domesticated version is that the wild species lacks the round belly found in domesticated buffalo.
The classification of the Water Buffalo is uncertain. Some authorities list a single species, Bubalus bubalus with three subspecies, the River Buffalo (B. bubalus bubalus) of South Asia and the Carabao or Swamp Buffalo (B. bubalus carabanesis) of the Philippines and Southeast Asia, and the Arni, or Wild Buffalo, (B. bubalus arnee). Others regard these as closely related, but separate, species. The Swamp Buffalo is primarily found in the eastern half of Asia and has 48 chromosomes. The River Buffalo is mostly found in western half of Asia, and has 50 chromosomes. Fertile offspring occur between the two. It does not readily hybridize with cattle, which have 60 chromosomes.
Milk from both of these animals is used by many human populations, and is the traditional raw material for mozzarella cheese and curd due to its higher fat content.
Asia is the native home of the water buffalo, with 95% of the world population of water buffalo. Many Asian countries depend on the water buffalo as its primary bovine species. It is valuable for its meat and milk as well as the labor it performs. As of 1992 the Asian population was estimated at 141 million. The fat content of buffalo milk is the highest amongst farm animals and the butterfat is a major source of ghee in some Asian countries. Its success in Asia is evident by its extensive range. Both variants occur in Asia. River Buffalo are found in elevations of 2,800 m in Nepal, and Swamp Buffalo are found throughout the lowland tropics. Part of their success is due to their ability to thrive on poor foodstuffs and yet be valuable economically. Moreover they are much better suited to plough the muddy paddy fields, as they are better adapted than common cattle (Bos taurus) to move in swamps.
In the wild, very few pockets of buffalo exist. The Indian wild buffalo is found in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Thailand. This9 buffalo has the largest horns of any living animal. The average spread is about m 3 ft 3 in (1m), but one bull shot in 1955 had horns measuring 13 ft 11 in (4.24 m) from tip to tip along the outside curve across the forehead. These massive battering rams protect the beast in the wild efficiently enough that even its predator seldom attacks a fully-grown male. Today, the estimated population of wild water buffaloes is about 4000, but, this number takes into account all wild population, including feral herds and hybrid buffaloes. In fact, it is possible that no true wild specimens exist anymore.
Introduced into the Northern Territory early in the 19th century as a beast of burden, it quickly escaped and is now feral. As a result of its feral status it may be hunted. Melville Island is a popular hunting location, where a steady population of up to 4,000 individuals exists. Buffaloes are also found in Arnhem Land and the Top End. Safari outfits run out of Darwin to Melville Island and other locations in the Top End often with the use of bush pilots. The government has unsuccessfully attempted several eradication programs.
The buffaloes live mainly in freshwater marshes and billabongs, and their range can be quite expansive during the Wet season. They have developed a different appearance from the Indonesian buffaloes from which they descend.
Europe and Middle East
Introduced into North Africa and the Near East by 600 AD, the water buffalo was brought to Europe with returning Crusaders in the Middle Ages, and herds can be found in Bulgaria and Italy. As in Asia, buffaloes of the Middle East and Europe live on coarse vegetation on the marginal land traditionally available to peasants. They are an economic asset by serving as a protein source, draft animal, and storage of family or household wealth. In some areas, they also provide occasional recreation at annual racing festivals. These buffalo are mostly River Buffaloes; due to genetic isolation have adopted a distinct appearance. Buffalo milk is used in Italy and elsewhere for the production of cheese, including mozzarella.