Water Buffalo Australian Feral Buffalo

Photo: Water buffalo submerged in water


Water buffaloes (known as Feral Buffaloes in Australia) are large swamp and floodplain dwelling bovid herbivores. They were first introduced to Australia in 1825 to provide meat to remote northern Australian settlements. Subsequently, they were released into the wild and are now causing considerable damage to native Australian fauna and flora.


Water Buffalo - General Description What Does A Water Buffalo Look Like?

Water buffaloes, also known as Asian buffaloes, can grow up to 2 meters in height, 3 meters in length and weigh up to 1,200 kilograms. Males are slightly larger than females with slightly larger horns. They have very short black or dark grey fur, and their skin is grey to black in colour. They have crescent-shaped horns with deep ridges on their surface.

Water buffalo hooves are wide-splayed (spread out) to provide a large surface area for their feet which prevents them from sinking in the mud and wetlands in which they move. These animals are also more sensitive to heat than most bovids because they have fewer sweat glands. Wallowing in mud helps keep them cool. It also helps cake the animal in a protective layer of mud, thereby shielding it from insect bites. Water buffaloes live in herds composed of a few animals. If threatened, they will put their heads down in an attack/defensive position and can, with a quick flick of their head, impale their victim with their hones and inflict severe damage.

Water buffaloes are both diurnal and nocturnal; they are active during the day and night, depending on the weather. They live for about 25 years.

25 Water Buffalo Facts

  1. Water buffaloes are the second largest of bovids in the world.
  2. They grow to 2 meters in height, 3 meters in length and weigh up to 1,200 kilograms.
  3. They can run at speeds of up to 50km/h.
  4. Buffaloes in Australia are called Feral Buffaloes in Australia.
  5. They live in the wetlands and floodplains of northern Australia.
  6. Australia has two types of buffalo: the swamp buffalo s and the river buffalo.
  7. There were no buffaloes in Australia until 1825.
  8. They were brought to Australia as draft animals and to provide meat and dairy products for early settlers living in isolated settlements in the northern parts of Australia.
  9. These are the descendants of domesticated buffaloes that were abandoned by early settlers.
  10. A buffalo's hooves are spread out to provide a large surface area for their feet, preventing them from sinking in mud and wetlands.
  11. They can swim and walk underwater.
  12. Buffaloes have few sweat glands and can quickly overheat.
  13. Wallowing keeps the buffalo cool and also protects it from sunburn and biting insects.
  14. They are herbivores (plant-eaters) that eat aquatic plants, grass and other plant matter.
  15. They usually feed and dawn and dusk.
  16. A buffalo eats up to 30kg of food per day.
  17. And rest in the shade or wallow in water during the heat of the day.
  18. Buffaloes can be very aggressive and fearless.
  19. They have few natural predators in Australia.
  20. Water buffaloes live in herds of up to 30 animals.
  21. Australia has the biggest wild (feral) water buffalo population in the world, with about 150,000 animals.
  22. The buffalo has no natural predators in Australia.
  23. While India has the largest number of domesticated buffaloes--98 million.
  24. Water buffaloes were first domesticated in India over 5,00 years ago.
  25. They live for about 25 years.

Types of Buffaloes

Australia has two types of buffalo: the swamp buffalo with swept-back horns and the river buffalo with smaller curled horns. The swamp buffalo has 48 chromosomes, and the river buffalo has 50. As a result, the two types do not readily interbreed.

Photo: Swamp Water buffalo

Swamp Buffalo

The Swamp Buffalo was originally imported into Australia from Indonesia in 1825. It has a shorter wider snout, a stockier build with shorter limbs and a bigger belly than the river buffalo. It has a flat forehead with prominent eyes and huge swept-back crescent-shaped horns. These horns are impressive and can measure up to 2 meters from tip to tip. It has short black or grey-black fur on black skin and a short tail which only reaches as far as its hocks (equivalent anatomically to the ankle in humans).The swamp buffalo is larger and more prevalent, in Australia, than the river buffalo. It prefers spending most its time coating itself in mud, in swamps and water holes.

Photo: River buffalo

River Buffalo

The River Buffalo was imported from India in the 1880s. It has a longer, narrower snout, longer limbs, and a smaller belly than the swamp buffalo. It has small curled horns that seem to grow out of a helmet. It likes to spend its time in clear water, usually in rivers. This breed was originally imported mainly for its milk which is very high in butterfat.


Why the Water Buffalo was Brought to Australia How Australian Buffalo Become Feral

About 80 water buffalo were imported into the Northern Territory of Australia from Indonesia between 1825 and 1843 to provide draft animals and meat and dairy products for early settlers living in isolated settlements there. Additional animals were also brought from India. These early settlements were unsuccessful and were abandoned in the 1850s. When these early settlements failed, the domestic buffaloes were set free. The descendants of these freed animals became feral (wild) and are now thriving in the Australian wetlands. Before extensive culling in the 1980s, there were more than 350,000 feral buffaloes in the Northern Territory. Current estimates put their numbers at about 150,000 animals.


Water Buffalo - Habitat Where the Water Buffalo Lives

Photo: Feral buffalo habitat

Australian water buffaloes live in the tropical and subtropical wetlands and floodplains of northern Australia, where there is sufficient water for them to wallow in. They are also found in the tropical and subtropical forests of Asia.

Buffaloes are very dependent on the availability of plenty of water and spend a considerable time wallowing in mud holes and rivers.


Water Buffalo - Diet What does the Water Buffalo Eat?

Water buffaloes are herbivores (plant-eaters). They eat aquatic plants, grass and other plant matter, including the bark of trees. During the wet season, they graze on the lush underwater grasses and grass-like wetland plants on the flood plains. Starting at dusk, they feed until mid-day and then take a break and wallow in the mud until about mid-afternoon, when they commence grazing again until nightfall. During the dry season, they prefer to wallow most of the day and graze on savannah woodlands grasses during the cooler evening and night. Males eat up to 30 kilograms of food each day. The dietary habits of buffaloes are more versatile than cattle because they eat a wider variety of vegetation than cattle and eat poorer quality feed.


Water Buffalo - Reproduction & Life Cycle Water Buffalo Babies

Females usually produce calves every other year. They typically give birth to a single offspring after a gestation of 9 to 11 months. Males reach sexual maturity at 18 months, and females in about three years.

Young bulls typically remain with their maternal herd for about three years. After which, they form bachelor groups of up to 10 individuals. Older males often become solitary and only return to the herds to mate. Males mate with as many females as possible.

Buffaloes live to about 20 years of age.


Water Buffalo - Predators and Threats What Kills Water Buffaloes?

baffalo attacked by dingo

Video: Water buffalo being attacked by a dingo

Photo: Water buffalo killed by sports shooter

Humans are the main predators of the water buffalo. Because of active culling campaigns and buffalo hunting for sport, humans kill numerous buffaloes each year. A small number, around 3,000 annually, are also captured and exported overseas, mainly to Indonesia.

Because of their size and deadly horns, adult buffaloes have no natural animal predators. Young buffaloes, however, do fall prey to crocodiles and dingoes. Rarely, packs of dingo try to bring down a buffalo. They are seldom successful.

Buffaloes suffer from many of the same diseases as cattle, such as tuberculosis and brucellosis.

Dingoes Attacking Water Buffaloes


Water Buffalo - Conservation Status Is the Water Buffalo Endangered?

The feral water buffalo is not endangered in Australia. Instead, it is classified as a pest, and its population is aggressively culled.

Worldwide wild water buffaloes are endangered as their population in the wild are very small. However, there are hundreds of millions of domesticated water buffaloes.


Why the Buffalo is Bad for Australia Feral Buffalo Impact on Australian Environment

The Australian environment has evolved in isolation from the rest of the world for millions of years and has developed plants and animals unique to its environment.

Before the introduction of buffaloes to Australia, there were no large native water dwelling animals in Australia. It has never had hooved animals of any sort, nor has it had animals that disrupt and damage aquatic environments. The largest water-dwelling native Australian animals are the platypus and the freshwater crocodile. A buffalo is over 500 times bigger and heavier than a platypus. A freshwater crocodile grows to about one-twelfth the size of a large buffalo. They cause little or no damage the the environment.

The water buffalo, on the other hand, has been become a major environmental disaster in the wetlands of the north. Its wallowing habit, trails, dung, trampling and disturbance severely damages native flora not accustomed to being trampled and squashed. They also muddy up waterways and cause soil erosion killing native fish.

A major culling operation was undertaken in the 1980s and the population of buffalo was reduced to about 80,000 animals. In 2008 the population of water buffaloes was estimated at approximately 150,000.