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What is a Water Buffalo?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2016
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The water buffalo or Bubalus bubalis is a bovine native to Asia, where it has roamed for thousands of years. In addition to being found wild in Asia, water buffalo are also domesticated, working as draft animals in many Asian countries and being used to produce meat and milk in many regions of the world. Many zoos have a collection of water buffalo on display for people who would like to see them, and people who travel in rural Asia often encounter working water buffalo.

Wild populations of water buffalo are under severe threat, due to restricted habitat and widespread hunting of the animals. Most wild Asiatic water buffalo are found on game preserves and in protected parklands, with several Asian governments working to protect these animals as part of their national heritage. The wild water buffalo is classified as an endangered species, due to its shrinking population and perilous future.

Domesticated water buffalo have been working for people since around 3,000 BCE. They are used as draft animals to pull plows and carts, and they also provide a source of milk, meat, and hides. In impoverished areas, some people become very attached to their water buffalo, as these animals can generate substantial income for their human families. Outside of Asia, water buffalo provide the source of milk for traditional mozzarella, serve as a source of meat in North America, and they work as draft animals in Latin America.

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These animals are distinguished by their extraordinary ridged horns, which are extremely large. Water buffalo themselves can grow up to 2,645 pounds (1,200 kilograms) in weight, with muscular, dark gray bodies. Like other bovines, the water buffalo has hoofed feet, but these animals have splayed hooves which are designed to support their weight on muddy ground, allowing the water buffalo to roam through wetlands and riverbeds without sinking.

As their name implies, water buffalo are quite comfortable in the water. In the wild, they are often found around forested wetlands, and they may spend much of their day in the water, keeping cool and foraging for food. Water buffalo generally live in herds which can vary widely in size, with the females bearing a single calf each year after a gestation which lasts around nine months.

Many people associate these animals with Asian culture because they have become such important working animals in Southeast Asia, and they have participated in centuries of Asian history. Hopefully the preservation efforts aimed at the wild water buffalo will be successful, allowing future generations to catch a glimpse of Asia's distant past.

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