Save the Genetically Invaluable Wild Water Buffalo

wild water buffalo

Save the Genetically Invaluable Wild Water Buffalo 

-Dr. Arvind Singh 

The Wild water buffalo scientifically known as Bubalus arnee is a large species of wild bovine native to Southeast Asia. It is also called Asiatic buffalo, Asian buffalo, Feral water buffalo, Indian buffalo, Water buffalo and Wild Asiatic buffalo. The Wild water buffaloes are massive and powerful animals, some weighing in at more than 1,000 kg. Their size deters all wild predators apart from the tiger and they still present a challenge for such big cat. Wild water buffalo is one of the most magnificent animals in the world. Seals of the Indus Valley Civilization (2500 B.C.) depict the Wild water buffalo, revealing its wide distribution across the sub-continent.

The Wild water buffalo is an ancestor of the Domestic buffalo and is genetically invaluable. It is the state animal of Chhattisgarh state in India. Due to a sharp decline in population Wild water buffalo is listed as ‘Endangered’ in the Red List of Threatened Species of International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) since 1986. Endangered species are those which are in danger of extinction and whose survival is unlikely if the causal factors continue to be operating. Their number has been reduced to a critical level or whose habitats have been so drastically reduced that they are deemed to be in immediate danger of extinction.

The global population of Wild water buffalo is less than 4,000 individuals of which about 2,900 lives in India with 2,850 individuals in Northeast India. Thus most of the individuals of Wild water buffalo in India are concentrated in Northeast India.

Distribution Range:

Wild water buffaloes are distributed in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Thailand, Cambodia, and Myanmar. However, they are extinct in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Laos, and Vietnam.

In India, Wild water buffaloes are chiefly found in states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh. In Assam, this animal species is found in and around Manas Sanctuary, Laokhowa Sanctuary, Kaziranga National Park and Dibru Sanctuary. In Arunachal Pradesh, the Wild water buffalo occurs in and around Namdapha Sanctuary. There are two populations of Wild water buffalo in Chhattisgarh, one in Indravati National Park and another is Udanti Sanctuary. There are only nine individuals with only one female in Udanti Wildlife Sanctuary.
A small population of Wild buffalo also survives in Buxa Tiger Reserve in West Bengal and in Balpakram National Park in Meghalaya.

Physical Characteristics:

Wild water buffalo are massive and barrel-chested with short legs. Males are much larger than females. The lower legs are pale in colour. One or two white crescents are usually present on the throat or upper chest, and there may also be faint pale markings around the eyes, on the sides of the nose, and by the mouth.

Wild water buffaloes are larger and heavier than Domestic buffaloes and weigh from 700 to 1,200 kg. Their head to body length is 240 to 300 cm with a tail 60-100 cm long and a shoulder height of 150-190 cm. Both males and females have horns that are heavy at the base and widely spread up to 2 m along outer edges. Horns of males are thicker but often shorter than those of females. Wild water buffalo have the broadest horn span of any bovine. The horns in Wild water buffalo extend sideways from the skull and curve backward while in Indian buffalo; the horns often curve in a semi-circle.

Both sexes are slate-grey to black in colour, although mature males are very dark. The ears are comparatively small in size and tend to droop downwards. The tail length of the animal varies from 60-85 cm. The tip of the tail is bushy and the hooves are large and splayed.

Habitat and Ecology:

Wild water buffaloes are found in grasslands, alluvial plains, and marshes, although they may use woodlands for shelter. They are tied to the availability of water.

Wild water buffalo are grazers feeding mainly on grasses and sedges but they also eats fruits and bark. They browse trees and shrubs as well. Wild water buffalo graze in the mornings and evenings. They also feed on crops including paddy, sugarcane and jute causing considerable damage. Wild water buffalo usually found beating the mid-day heat by lying in the shade or wallowing in muddy pools. They like to submerge themselves all the way up to their nostrils. This not only helps them cool off but it also helps to get rid of skin parasites and offers relief from biting insects. The sweeping horns are often used as shovels to increase mud coverage.

Wild water buffaloes are both diurnal and nocturnal. Typically they form maternal groups of loosely structured herds containing 10-20, but sometimes up to 100 individuals, year-round. Each group has a home range of up to 3.9 square miles that contain a watering hole and resting and grazing areas. Adult males form bachelor herds up to 10 individuals, while older males tend to live solitary lives. Mating is typically initiated by the male Wild buffalo. Females have a long gestation period that lasts for 10-11 months. Females give birth to single offspring, although twins do occur. At birth, the calves are buff-brown in colour. They begin to darken around six months of age. The calf is nursed by the mother for 6-9 months. Wild water buffalo is a seasonal breeder in most of its range in October and November. However, some populations breed year-round. Age of sexual maturity is 18 months for males and 3 years for females. The lifespan is 25 years in the wild.

Threats to Survival:

The threats to survival of Wild water buffalo include interbreeding with feral and domestic buffaloes, hunting, habitat loss, habitat degradation and diseases and parasites.

The interbreeding with feral and domestic buffaloes is one of the main threats to Wild water buffalo. Mating with domestic buffaloes genetically weakens this wild species. In Chhattisgarh, due to interbreeding a very small number of true Wild water buffaloes are left. Population data suggest a decline of about 80% population between 1966 and 1992 in Central India.

Hunting is the main threat to the survival of the Wild water buffalo population in Thailand, Cambodia, and Myanmar. In Cambodia, Wild buffaloes are hunted for horns.

Habitat loss due to expansion of agriculture and hydropower development, and habitat degradation due to invasion of perennial exotic plant Mikania micrantha (Bitter vine) are the other threats to the survival of Wild water buffaloes.

Since Wild water buffaloes are susceptible to diseases transmitted by domestic livestock hence disease epidemics spreading from domestic livestock pose a threat especially given the close overlap of Wild water buffalo populations and domestic livestock in South Asia, the high densities especially of the latter, and the small and localized nature of Wild water buffalo populations.

Water scarcity competition with domestic cattle for fodder and retaliatory killing by locals during crop depredation are the other threats to the survival of Wild water buffalo.


Wild water buffalo is included in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) under Appendix III in Nepal. The animal has been legally protected in Bhutan, India, Nepal and Thailand. A meeting on Wild water buffalo Governing Council was held in March 2012 where it was decided that the cloning of female Wild water buffalo would be done with help of National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI), Karnal (Haryana). It was also decided that Government Veterinary College, Anjora, Durg (Chhattisgarh) would cryopreserve (preservation at ultra low temperature) Wild water buffalo. The Supreme Court passed an order on February13, 2012 for Wild buffalo conservation that necessitates a number of steps such as safeguarding its genetic purity.

The following actions are needed for the conservation of the Wild water buffaloes in India.

1. To check the habitat loss of Wild water buffaloes. 

2. To rebuild the degraded habitats of Wild water buffaloes. 

3. To avoid the contact of Wild buffaloes with other domestic livestock. 

4. To check the interbreeding of Wild buffaloes with Domestic water buffaloes. 

5. To evaluate the integrity of wild-living buffalo populations. 

6. To strictly enforce Indian Wildlife Protection Act and CITES. 


It can be concluded that the Wild water buffalo is facing threat of extinction mainly due to habitat loss and degradation, interbreeding with feral and domestic buffaloes, hunting, diseases, and parasites. Therefore it is utmost need to save this genetically invaluable wild bovine species from extinction.

Dr. Arvind Singh is M. Sc. and Ph. D. in Botany with an area of specialization in Ecology. He is a dedicated Researcher having more than four dozen published Research Papers in the Journals of National and International repute. His main area of Research is Restoration of Mined Lands. However, he has also conducted Research on the Vascular Flora of Banaras Hindu University-Main Campus, India. 

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