Wild Water Buffalo, Bubalus arnee

The wild water buffalo (Bubalus arnee) is a member of the Bovidae family that is native to Southeast Asia. It is also known as the Asiatic buffalo and the Asian buffalo. Its range includes Nepal, India, Cambodia, and Thailand and once included other areas like Laos and Pakistan, but populations there have gone extinct. In India, populations are mainly restricted to protected areas including Manas and Dibru-Saikhowa National Parks and D’Ering Memorial Wildlife Sanctuary, among other areas. However, most individuals reside in Assam, numbering 3,100 of 3,400 left in the world. In the other areas of its range, it numbers between three and a few hundred individuals.

In 1758, Carl Linnaeus described the wild water buffalo and gave it the scientific name Bos bubalis. Robert Kerr changed this name in 1792 to Bos arnee. Other names were used for this species including Bos, Buffelus, and Bubalus. In 2003, the name was changed to Bubalus arnee by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature, a name that is currently accepted as valid.

The wild water buffalo is the second largest bovid in the world, reaching an average weight of up to 2,600 pounds, with a body length between 94 and 120 inches. Both males and females have large horns that can reach an average length of 79 inches. Its skin is typically black or grey in color, and the hair grows towards the head instead of the tail. Both the forehead and tip of the tail bare a tuft of hair.

Female wild water buffalo live in groups of up to thirty individuals, along with young, and older cows typically lead these groups. If bulls are present, the dominant female will still lead the group. Each group can have a home range of up to 3.9 square miles that contain a watering hole and resting and grazing areas. Younger adult males form smaller bachelor groups of up to ten individuals, while old males tend to live solitary lives. The small groups will gather to form larger herds in resting areas, numbering between thirty to five hundred individuals.

The breeding season for the wild water buffalo occurs between the months of October and November, although some populations are able to breed year round. Dominant males in bachelor groups will mate with females from separate groups, after which the males are chased away. After a pregnancy period of ten to eleven months, one young is born, although twins do occur. Females are able to breed at three years of age, while males can breed much earlier at eighteen months.

It is thought that the wild water buffalo is a grazer by choice, preferring true grasses like sedges and scutch grass when available. It will eat bark, fruit, herbs, and brows from bushes and trees if needed. Crops like rice and sugarcane are also consumed, sometimes in high numbers. In some areas, the wild water buffalo has been introduced as feral domestic grazers, which are used to control overgrown vegetation. These efforts have helped maintain viable habitat for waterfowl and other creatures.

The wild water buffalo is threatened by habitat loss, disease, interbreeding with feral cattle, and competition with domestic cattle. Common predators include the Asian black bears and tigers. It is protected by law in Nepal, Thailand, Bhutan, and India and appears on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Endangered”.

Image Caption: These are large and impressive bovids that never stray far from water. Image taken In Udu Walawe NP, Sri Lanka. Credit: Steve Garvie/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)