The water buffalo or domestic Asian water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) is a large bovine animal, frequently used as livestock in Asia, and also widely in South America, southern Europe, and north Africa.
In 2000, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that there were 158 million water buffalo in the world and that 97% of them were in Asia.
Dwindling wild populations still survive in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, and Thailand (less than 2,500 mature individuals).
American bison are known as buffalo in parts of North America, but not normally in other usages; bison are more closely related to cattle, gaur, banteng, and yaks than to Asian buffalo.
The water buffalo genus includes water buffalo, tamaraw and anoas—all Asian species.
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. Herds can be found in Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Hungary, Austria and Italy.
These buffalo are mostly river buffalo; due to genetic isolation, they have adopted a distinct appearance. Buffalo milk is used for the production of buffalo mozzarella in Campania and many other locations around the world.
Importance to humans
Water buffalo have been domesticated for 5,000 years. Milk is the traditional raw material for mozzarella cheese and curd due to its higher fat content.
The chief dairy breed of Buffalo is the Murrah breed. Horns are used for the embouchure of musical instruments such as ney and kaval.
The water buffalo is the classic work animal in Asia, an integral part of that continent’s traditional village farming structure and also used for hauling cotton, pumping water in Pakistan and hauling logs in Turkey. The domesticated water buffalo is often referred to as “the living tractor of the East”.
The Murrah breed of Water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) is the premier milking buffalo. It is originally from Punjab and Haryana states of India and Punjab state of Pakistan, but has been used to improve the milk production of dairy buffalo in other countries, such as Italy, Bulgaria and Egypt. In Italy, it is the basis of Mozzarella cheese production, and therefore Italian Pizza. By Italian law, Mozzarella may only be made from buffalo milk, which is preferred for its very high butterfat content, up to 16% compared with 4% for European (Bos taurus) dairy breeds such as Jersey cattle.
Jet black in colour, sometimes with white markings on face or legs. Bulls weigh 550 kg and cows 450 kg.
Water buffalo spend much of their day submerged in the muddy waters of Asia’s tropical and subtropical forests. They have wide-splayed hoofed feet which are used to prevent them from sinking too deeply in the mud.
Most water buffaloes are not trained to be driven. Instead, the herdsman must walk alongside or ahead of them. They then instinctively follow. They also rub against trees more often than cattle do, and they sometimes de-bark the trees causing them to die.
Water Buffalo. Wikipedia.
Murrah buffalo. Wikipedia.
Image source: Water buffalo. Wikipedia, GNU Free Documentation License.
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