Water buffalo



Sydasien 1978-79
Nowadays, the wild water buffalo (Bubalus arnee ssp. arnee) is found very few places in Asia, with the largest concentration in Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India, where this picture was taken. The bird is an eastern cattle egret (Bubulcus coromandus). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Sydindien 1997-98
This man is washing his buffalos in a river near Bodhgaya, Bihar, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



The wild water buffalo (Bubalus arnee ssp. arnee) is native to the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia. It has been declining drastically for hundreds of years, and today there may be as few as c. 3,400 individuals left, of which about 90% live in India, mainly in Assam.

Wild buffalos were domesticated about 5,000 years ago, and through selective breeding they have become the docile beasts that we today see working in the paddy fields, or pulling heavily loaded carts.

The difference between the domestic water buffalo and its wild cousin mainly lies in the shape of the horns, which in the wild form are massive, spreading out sideways almost horizontally, only curving at the tip, while the horns of the domestic form are smaller, curved almost from the base.

Two types of domestic water buffalo are recognized, the so-called river buffalo (Bubalus arnee ssp. bubalis) of the Indian Subcontinent, the Middle East, and the Balkans, and the swamp buffalo (Bubalus arnee ssp. carabanesis), found from central China southwards to Southeast Asia and Assam in India. DNA studies indicate that the river buffalo was probably domesticated in India about 5,000 years ago, and the swamp buffalo probably in China about 4,000 years ago. Research has revealed that Indus Valley traders brought water buffalos to Mesopotamia about 2500 B.C.

Today, domesticated water buffalo are found in most hot countries of the world, and numbers may exceed 130 million. Their milk is richer and contains more fat than that of cattle, and their ability to pull the plough through rice fields surpasses that of any other animal.

Most water buffalos have very little fur on their bodies. A Nepalese legend regarding this fact is related elsewhere on this website, see Animals: Why the water buffalo has so little hair.



Indien 2003
As its name implies, the water buffalo spends much time in water. This buffalo in Hampi, Karnataka, South India, is enjoying a bath, while chewing the cud. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Buffalos, grazing in a waterhole, Keoladeo National Park, Rajasthan, India. This grazing is beneficial to the reserve, as it prevents vegetation from clogging the waterholes. The white birds are eastern cattle egrets (Bubulcus coromandus), while various duck species are feeding in the background. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Varanasi 2008
Buffalos, passing through a narrow alley in the city of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Research has revealed that Indus Valley traders brought water buffalos to Mesopotamia about 2500 B.C. This buffalo is swimming across a channel in the marshlands of southern Iraq. – Read more about this interesting wetland elsewhere on this website, see Travel episodes: Iraq 1973: The hospitable mudir, and Dust storm and sheep’s head. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Sydasien 1982-83
The ability of the water buffalo to pull the plough through rice fields surpasses that of any other animal. – Aliwetawela, east of Badulla, Sri Lanka. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Nepal 1985
At sunset, this cart, pulled by buffalos, is crossing the Rapti River, southern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Asien 1977-78
Buffalo cart, heavily laden with sugarcane straw, Karnali, Haryana, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Nordindien 1997
This buffalo cow and her calf are for sale at a market in Sonpur, Bihar, India. Oil has been applied to their body, making them look more attractive to buyers. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Sydøstasien 1975
These Batak tribal children have fun, bringing home water buffaloes after work in the paddy fields, Samosir Island, Sumatra, Indonesia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Sydasien 1978-79
Traditionally, the water buffalos which live in Yala National Park and other wildlife sanctuaries in Sri Lanka, are regarded as wild buffalos, but they probably descend from feral domestic buffalos, as their horns are smaller than those of the genuine wild buffalos of Assam. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



In Hindu mythology, Mahishasura was a powerful demon, who threatened the power of the gods, and not even the mighty gods Vishnu and Shiva could resist him. Then Durga, Shiva’s shakti (female energy), took action. Riding on her lion, she attacked Mahishasura, who first changed into a huge buffalo, then into a lion. Durga sliced off his head, but he then changed into an elephant, whereupon Durga cut off his trunk. The demon hurled large mountains at the goddess, but, nevertheless, she managed to kill him with her spear.



Indien 2003
This sculpture in the great temple near Aihole, Karnataka, South India, depicts Durga, riding on her lion, battling against Mahishasura, here in the shape of a buffalo. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



The Daoist Shueisian Temple near Beigang, western Taiwan, which dates back to 1780, is dedicated to Da Yu (Yu the Great), who lived in China during the Xia Dynasty (c. 2700-1600 B.C.). He managed to stop the great annual flooding of the Yellow River by building canals. Later, Daoists regarded him as a deity.



Taiwan 2017a
Detail of the Shueisian Temple, depicting a rural scene with a buffalo cart. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



(Uploaded September 2017)


(Revised December 2018)