water buffalo, also known as the Asian or Indian buffalo, is a very large animal, averaging 7.75 to 10 feet (2.4 to 3 meters) long. It stands 5 to 6.25 feet (1.5 to 2 meters) tall at its shoulder and weighs between 1,550 and 2,650 pounds (700 and 1,200 kilograms). Long, coarse hair covers the buffalo’s ash gray to black body.
Both male and female water buffalo have small ears, thin faces, and widely spread horns. The horns, thick where they emerge from the animal’s head, form a semicircle by curving out and back. Ending in a point, these horns may reach a length of 6 feet (2 meters).
The wild water buffalo’s diet consists of grasses and other vegetation that grows along the shores of lakes and rivers. Although the animal is fast and aggressive, it can fall prey to tigers.
Leopards also often prey on young water buffalo. A female water buffalo gives birth to a single infant after a gestation (pregnancy) period of 310 to 340 days. The infant is then nursed for up to nine months.
Habitat and current distribution
In 2002, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) estimated that while there are definitely less than 4,000 wild water buffalo left in the wild, the true figure may actually be closer to 200 surviving animals.
In contrast, almost 130,000,000 domestic water buffalo, which are used to pull carts and plows, live in India and Southeast Asia. Because of interbreeding between domestic and the larger wild water buffalo, biologists (people who study living organisms) believe that less than 50 of the wild species are genetically pure.
History and conservation measures
Several factors have contributed to the disappearance of wild water buffalo: excessive hunting, the destruction of buffalo habitat to create agricultural land, and diseases transmitted by cattle and other domestic livestock. Two national parks have been set up in India to protect the remaining wild water buffalo.