Invasive Species Compendium

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Datasheet

Bubalus bubalis
(Asian water buffalo)

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Datasheet

Bubalus bubalis (Asian water buffalo)

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 20 November 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Host Animal
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Bubalus bubalis
  • Preferred Common Name
  • Asian water buffalo
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Metazoa
  •     Phylum: Chordata
  •       Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •         Class: Mammalia
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • The Asian water buffalo, Bubalus bubalis, was domesticated independently in India and China from a wild stock resembling Bubalus arnee 4000 – 5000 years ago. It has been introduced widely an...

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Pictures

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PictureTitleCaptionCopyright
Bubalus bubalis (Asian water buffalo); feral bull in water. Corroboree Billabong, Northern Territory, Australia. November, 2005.
TitleFeral bull
CaptionBubalus bubalis (Asian water buffalo); feral bull in water. Corroboree Billabong, Northern Territory, Australia. November, 2005.
Copyright©Djambalawa/via Wikipedia - CC BY 3.0
Bubalus bubalis (Asian water buffalo); feral bull in water. Corroboree Billabong, Northern Territory, Australia. November, 2005.
Feral bullBubalus bubalis (Asian water buffalo); feral bull in water. Corroboree Billabong, Northern Territory, Australia. November, 2005.©Djambalawa/via Wikipedia - CC BY 3.0
Bubalus bubalis kerabau (Asian water buffalo); feral bull on the Mary River floodplain, west of Kakadu National Park, northern Australia. March, 2010. Buffalo spread to this floodplain by 1885 from a stock of domesticated water buffalo released by Europeans on the Cobourg Peninsula, approx.150 km northeast of the Mary River, in 1825 (Petty et al., 2007).
TitleFeral bull
CaptionBubalus bubalis kerabau (Asian water buffalo); feral bull on the Mary River floodplain, west of Kakadu National Park, northern Australia. March, 2010. Buffalo spread to this floodplain by 1885 from a stock of domesticated water buffalo released by Europeans on the Cobourg Peninsula, approx.150 km northeast of the Mary River, in 1825 (Petty et al., 2007).
Copyright©Aaron Petty-2010
Bubalus bubalis kerabau (Asian water buffalo); feral bull on the Mary River floodplain, west of Kakadu National Park, northern Australia. March, 2010. Buffalo spread to this floodplain by 1885 from a stock of domesticated water buffalo released by Europeans on the Cobourg Peninsula, approx.150 km northeast of the Mary River, in 1825 (Petty et al., 2007).
Feral bull Bubalus bubalis kerabau (Asian water buffalo); feral bull on the Mary River floodplain, west of Kakadu National Park, northern Australia. March, 2010. Buffalo spread to this floodplain by 1885 from a stock of domesticated water buffalo released by Europeans on the Cobourg Peninsula, approx.150 km northeast of the Mary River, in 1825 (Petty et al., 2007).©Aaron Petty-2010
Bubalus bubalis kerabau (Asian water buffalo); herd on the Mary River floodplain, northern Australia. March, 2010.
TitleFeral herd
CaptionBubalus bubalis kerabau (Asian water buffalo); herd on the Mary River floodplain, northern Australia. March, 2010.
Copyright©Aaron Petty-2010
Bubalus bubalis kerabau (Asian water buffalo); herd on the Mary River floodplain, northern Australia. March, 2010.
Feral herdBubalus bubalis kerabau (Asian water buffalo); herd on the Mary River floodplain, northern Australia. March, 2010.©Aaron Petty-2010
Bubalus bubalis (Asian water buffalo); feral bull on roadside. Fogg Dam, east of Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia. October, 2008.
TitleFeral bull
CaptionBubalus bubalis (Asian water buffalo); feral bull on roadside. Fogg Dam, east of Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia. October, 2008.
Copyright©Stephen Michael Barnett/via wikipedia - CC BY 2.0
Bubalus bubalis (Asian water buffalo); feral bull on roadside. Fogg Dam, east of Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia. October, 2008.
Feral bullBubalus bubalis (Asian water buffalo); feral bull on roadside. Fogg Dam, east of Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia. October, 2008.©Stephen Michael Barnett/via wikipedia - CC BY 2.0
Bubalus bubalis (Asian water buffalo); a domesticated water buffalo (likely B. bubalis kerabau) on pasture in Laos.
TitleDomesticated animal
CaptionBubalus bubalis (Asian water buffalo); a domesticated water buffalo (likely B. bubalis kerabau) on pasture in Laos.
Copyright©Aaron Petty-2010
Bubalus bubalis (Asian water buffalo); a domesticated water buffalo (likely B. bubalis kerabau) on pasture in Laos.
Domesticated animalBubalus bubalis (Asian water buffalo); a domesticated water buffalo (likely B. bubalis kerabau) on pasture in Laos.©Aaron Petty-2010

Identity

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Bubalus bubalis (L) Lydekker (1913)

Preferred Common Name

  • Asian water buffalo

International Common Names

  • English: Asian Buffalo; Asiatic Buffalo; buffalo; buffalo, domestic; buffaloes; domestic buffalo; Indian buffalo; Indian Water Buffalo; Swamp buffalo; water buffalo; Water Buffalo
  • Spanish: bufalo de agua; bufalos; carabao
  • French: Buffle De L'Inde; Buffle D'Eau; buffles
  • Chinese: shui niu

Local Common Names

  • Australia/Australian Northern Territory: gatabanga; nganbbarru
  • Cambodia: krabei
  • Germany: Büffel
  • Indonesia: kerbau
  • Italy: bufali
  • Malaysia: kerbau
  • Netherlands: karbouw
  • Portugal: bufalos
  • Thailand: kwai

DADIS local name

  • Buffalo
  • Burmese Bison
  • Burmese Gaur
  • Domestic buffalo
  • Pyaung
  • Pyun
  • Wild Asiatic Buffalo

DADIS main name

  • Buffel
  • Domaci bivo
  • Nondescript
  • Wild Buffalo
  • Wild Water Buffalo

Summary of Invasiveness

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The Asian water buffalo, Bubalus bubalis, was domesticated independently in India and China from a wild stock resembling Bubalus arnee 4000 – 5000 years ago. It has been introduced widely and used in domesticated herds for thousands of years across southern mainland Asia, Southeast Asia, and the the Middle East, and for at least two thousand years in far northeastern Africa and southern Europe, all areas where it is seen as naturalised and not invasive. Throughout this region the species exists mainly as domesticated animals, with some small feral populations. The 19th century introductions into northern Australia (1826-1866) have resulted in the rapid spread of wild populations in wetland habitats and growth to high population densities, with adverse effects on ecosystems; programmes to eradicate the buffalo there were partially successful in the 1980s but today the feral buffalo thrive in the vast unoccupied floodplains of the monsoonal tropics of Australia. The species was introduced to South America in the 20th century and is now widely kept, with some feral populations. Other introductions into the Caribbean area for domestic purposes were made in the last 50 years; there are no feral herds there.  While there have been several introductions in Africa, the species does not seem to be invasive or widely kept there, probably due to susceptibility to trypanosomiasis and competition with native buffalo (Syncerus caffer).

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Metazoa
  •         Phylum: Chordata
  •             Subphylum: Vertebrata
  •                 Class: Mammalia
  •                     Order: Artiodactyla
  •                         Suborder: Ruminantia
  •                             Family: Bovidae
  •                                 Genus: Bubalus
  •                                     Species: Bubalus bubalis

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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Bubalus bubalis belongs to the mammalian family Bovidae. The most widely accepted taxonomy and nomenclature has two subspecies, the river buffalo (B. bubalis subsp. bubalis) and the swamp buffalo (B. bubalis subsp. kerabau); the name B. b. carabensis also appears in the literature but is at least approximately equivalent in meaning to B. b. kerabau. Buffalo were domesticated from the arnee (Bubalus arnee), a wild bovid found in Nepal, eastern India and other countries of southern Asia (IUCN, 2014; Lei et al. 2007). Marques et al. (2002) describe three subspecies, bubalis, kerebao (equivalent to carabensis), and fulva (equivalent to B. arnee). This reflects some confusion within the literature with many stating that “wild” B. bubalis is endangered in its native India, which is true only with reference to the wild type B. arnee. The IUCN red list (IUCN, 2014) does not recognise B. bubalis as endangered but does list B. arnee. The international consensus is that there are two subspecies of B. bubalis – bubalis andkerabau, with B. arnee as a separate species (Werner, 2014).

Description

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B. bubalis is a large ruminant with prominent horns, splayed hooves and a brown or dark grey coat. There are two morphologies. Subspecies bubalis (river buffalo) is larger -- males weigh approx. 450 – 1000 kg and can stand 1.5 – 1.8 m high at the shoulder. Males of subspecies kerabau (swamp buffalo) weigh approx. 325 – 450 kg and are considerably smaller. River buffalo also have more curved horns than swamp buffalo.

There are at least 22 different described breeds, plus several non-descript types, so it is impossible to describe a common morphology in the same way that it would be for cattle. Buffaloes are widespread from East Asia to the Middle East and in each country or region peculiar morphologies have developed. They are massive and stocky animals, with a huge variety of weight and height at withers. They have deep and wide frames, short limbs, heavy bones and a large and well-developed barrel. In females, the front portion of the body is light and narrow, while the rear portion is heavy and wide. In males the rear portion is light and the front portion very heavy. The hips are broad. The rump is broad and slightly sloping and the pin bones are prominent. The size of adult animals is very variable; height at the withers can range from 115 to 150 cm in males and 115 to 145 cm in females, and body weight can range from 200 kg to 800 kg (females) and 1000 kg (males).

Coat colour varies from jet black to dark grey and dark brown. Skin colour is black or slate. White spots all over the body or only on the front and tail switch, as well as albinos, are common only in some breeds.

Buffalo have limited body hair and appear nearly hairless. They have long tails with a tuft of hair at the end.

Horn length and shape are very variable, and are typical of the individual breed. The horns can vary in length from 40 to over 80 cm and can be curled, sickle-shaped, bending backwards or bending downwards.

Distribution

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Bubalus bubalis is used as a draught and food animal across much of southern Asia, on the mainland from Pakistan to Vietnam, as far north as southern China, and on the maritime continent from Indonesia to the Philippines. It was domesticated separately in the Indus valley about 5000 years ago and in China about 4000 years ago (Yindee et al., 2010; Yang et al., 2000) and spread throughout southern Asia as a useful domestic animal. From there it was introduced by 2500 years ago to the Middle East, Northern Africa, and south-eastern Europe and Italy (Cockrill, 1977; Long, 2003). There are a few feral populations in the historic range. In the past 200 years the species has been introduced to South America and Australia, and on both continents wild populations have established and spread in tropical riverine and floodplain regions.

In the Distribution table, the species is shown as Native in India, Pakistan and China, where it is known to have originated; it is shown as Introduced in countries where it is known to have been introduced in the past 200 years; and this column is left blank in countries (most of the Asian range, plus a few other countries) where it was introduced centuries or millennia ago, or where it is not clear whether it should be classed as native or introduced.

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes

Asia

AfghanistanPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977Predominantly ssp. bubalis
ArmeniaPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977; Borghese, 2005
AzerbaijanPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977; Borghese, 2005
BangladeshPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977; Borghese, 2005Both ssp. bubalis and kerabau
BhutanPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
Brunei DarussalamPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977Principally ssp. kerabau
CambodiaPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977Predominantly ssp. kerabau
ChinaPresent only in captivity/cultivationNative Not invasive Cockrill, 1977One of the sites of first domestication of buffalo. Widespread as a farm animal in the southern, wetter areas of China
-AnhuiPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Borghese, 2005
-FujianPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Borghese, 2005
-GuangxiPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Borghese, 2005
-GuizhouPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Borghese, 2005
-HenanPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Borghese, 2005
-Hong KongPresent Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
-HubeiPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Borghese, 2005
-HunanPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Borghese, 2005
-JiangsuPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Borghese, 2005
-ShanghaiPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Borghese, 2005
-SichuanPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Borghese, 2005
-YunnanPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Borghese, 2005
-ZhejiangPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977; Borghese, 2005
East TimorPresent only in captivity/cultivationCockrill, 1977; Ridpath, 1991All are swamp buffalo (ssp. kerabau).
Georgia (Republic of)Present only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977Predominantly ssp. bubalis
IndiaPresent only in captivity/cultivationNative Not invasive Cockrill, 1977; Borghese, 2005Buffalo are widespread as farm animals.
-Andaman and Nicobar IslandsPresentIntroduced1956 Invasive Long, 2003Reported to be spreading due to a lack of predators and an abundant food supply.
-Andhra PradeshPresent Invasive Cockrill, 1977; Dahdouh-Guebas et al., 2006In addition to domesticated animals, a feral population exists in the mangroves in the East-Godavari delta
-Arunachal PradeshPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
-AssamPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
-BiharPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
-ChandigarhPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
-ChhattisgarhPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
-Dadra and Nagar HaveliPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
-DamanPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
-DelhiPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
-DiuPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
-GoaPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
-GujaratPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
-HaryanaPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
-Himachal PradeshPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
-Indian PunjabPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
-Jammu and KashmirPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
-JharkhandPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
-KarnatakaPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
-KeralaPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
-Madhya PradeshPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
-MaharashtraPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
-ManipurPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
-MeghalayaPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
-MizoramPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
-NagalandPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
-OdishaPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
-RajasthanPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
-SikkimPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
-Tamil NaduPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
-TripuraPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
-Uttar PradeshPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
-UttarakhandPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
-West BengalPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
IndonesiaPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Borghese, 2005Widespread as farm animal, mainly ssp. kerabau
-Irian JayaPresentBorghese, 2005
-JavaPresent Invasive Alikodra, 1987; Borghese, 2005In addition to domesticated animals, a wild population is reported in Baluran National Park
-KalimantanPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Borghese, 2005
-MoluccasPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Borghese, 2005
-Nusa TenggaraPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Borghese, 2005
-SulawesiPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Borghese, 2005
-SumatraPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Borghese, 2005
IranPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Borghese, 2005Subspecies bubalis
IraqPresent only in captivity/cultivation2004 Not invasive Cockrill, 1977; Borghese, 2005Subspecies bubalis
IsraelAbsent, formerly present Not invasive Cockrill, 1977Recorded in Jordan valley in 8th century. Domestic herds were kept in the marshes near Lake Huleh in the north, but disappeared after the swamps were drained [in 20th century]. Subspecies bubalis.
JapanPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Ryukyu ArchipelagoPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977A small population is on the island.
JordanPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977Recorded in Jordan valley in 8th century. A few buffaloes were introduced from Syria c.1940s; around 400 in 1977. Subspecies bubalis.
LaosPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977Principally ssp. kerabau.
MalaysiaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Peninsular MalaysiaPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977; Borghese, 2005Principally ssp. kerabau.
-SabahPresent only in captivity/cultivationCockrill, 1977Principally ssp. kerabau.
-SarawakPresent only in captivity/cultivationCockrill, 1977Principally ssp. kerabau.
MyanmarPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977Principally ssp. kerabau.
NepalPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977Principally ssp. bubalis
PakistanPresent only in captivity/cultivationNative Not invasive Cockrill, 1977; Borghese, 2005One of the sites of first domestication; widespread as farm animals and principal milk animal
PhilippinesPresent only in captivity/cultivation300 BCCockrill, 1977; Borghese, 2005Believed to have been introduced in 300-200 B.C. Subspecies kerabau is found here, although breed is distinct and smaller than elsewhere. Subspecies bubalis introduced in 20th century.
SingaporePresent only in captivity/cultivationcirca 1940 Not invasive Cockrill, 1977Principally ssp. bubalis
Sri LankaPresentLong, 2003; Borghese, 2005Domestic and feral
SyriaPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977; Borghese, 2005A small domestic population is kept in the marshy region of Syria
TaiwanPresent only in captivity/cultivation1500 Not invasive Cockrill, 1977
ThailandPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977; Borghese, 2005Principally ssp. kerabau
TurkeyPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977; Borghese, 2005Principally ssp. bubalis (Mediterranean shorthorn variety)
VietnamPresentPeenen et al., 1970; Cockrill, 1977Domestic, with a wild population on Con Son Island

Africa

CongoEradicated1977Introduced1914Cockrill, 1977Introduced from Italy and elsewhere. Herd being slaughtered in 1977 as not economically viable
EgyptPresent only in captivity/cultivationby 700 Not invasive Cockrill, 1977; Long, 2003; Borghese, 2005
EritreaPresent1933Introduced1933Long, 2003Water buffalo were taken to Eritrea from Egypt in 1933
MadagascarPresent1965Introduced1957Cockrill, 1977
MozambiquePresentIntroduced1945, 1969Cockrill, 1977Not likely invasive as seems highly susceptible to tryponosomiasis and other cattle-borne diseases
NigeriaPresentIntroduced1975Cockrill, 1977
South AfricaPresent only in captivity/cultivationIntroduced1904 Not invasive Cockrill, 1977A few buffalo in captivity and in zoos
TanzaniaPresent only in captivity/cultivationIntroduced1923, 1929, 1968 Not invasive Cockrill, 1977Establishment has been difficult as the buffalo is highly susceptible to trypanosomiasis
-ZanzibarAbsent, unreliable recordIntroducedCockrill, 1977Reported that buffalo were imported to Tanzania from Zanzibar
TunisiaLocalisedIntroducedCockrill, 1977; Long, 2003Small feral population
UgandaPresent1972Introduced1971 Not invasive Cockrill, 1977

North America

USAPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-FloridaPresent only in captivity/cultivationIntroduced1974 Not invasive NRC, 2002Introduced by University of Florida for research as an alternative to cattle in subtropical wetlands and a control for aquatic weeds; extensive field trials
-HawaiiEradicatedIntroduced19th centuryLong, 2003Introduced to Molokai and the Big Island, where they became feral in the 1930s but were eradicated soon afterwards
-TexasPresent only in captivity/cultivationIntroduced Not invasive NRC, 2002

Central America and Caribbean

CubaPresent only in captivity/cultivationIntroduced1983 - 1989Borghese, 2005Mostly ssp. bubalis with some imports of ssp. kerabau from Australia
PanamaAbsent, unreliable recordIntroducedBorghese, 2005Buffalo were imported to Cuba from Panama. No further details given
Trinidad and TobagoLocalisedIntroduced1900Cockrill, 1977; Borghese, 2005Subspecies bubalis

South America

ArgentinaPresentIntroducedLong, 2003; Borghese, 2005Domestic, with at least one feral herd
BrazilWidespreadIntroduced20th centuryLong, 2003; Camarao et al., 2004; Borghese, 2005; Sheikh et al., 2006Widely kept for meat and milk; feral herds in lower Amazon basin
-AcrePresentIntroducedBorghese, 2005
-AlagoasPresentIntroducedBorghese, 2005
-AmapaPresentIntroducedBorghese, 2005
-AmazonasPresentIntroducedBorghese, 2005
-BahiaWidespreadIntroducedBorghese, 2005
-CearaWidespreadIntroducedBorghese, 2005
-Espirito SantoPresentIntroducedBorghese, 2005
-Fernando de NoronhaPresentIntroducedBorghese, 2005
-GoiasPresentIntroducedBorghese, 2005
-MaranhaoPresentIntroducedCockrill, 1977; Borghese, 2005Subspecies bubalis
-Mato GrossoPresentIntroduced1900Cockrill, 1977Subspecies bubalis
-Mato Grosso do SulWidespreadIntroducedBorghese, 2005
-Minas GeraisWidespreadIntroducedCockrill, 1977; Borghese, 2005Subspecies bubalis
-ParaWidespreadIntroducedCockrill, 1977; Borghese, 2005; Sheikh et al., 2006Subspecies bubalis; farmed population growing rapidly; feral population may still exist on Marajó Island
-ParaibaPresentIntroducedBorghese, 2005
-ParanaWidespreadIntroducedCockrill, 1977; Borghese, 2005Subspecies bubalis
-PernambucoWidespreadIntroducedBorghese, 2005
-PiauiPresentIntroducedBorghese, 2005
-Rio de JaneiroWidespreadIntroducedCockrill, 1977; Borghese, 2005Subspecies bubalis
-Rio Grande do NorteWidespreadIntroducedBorghese, 2005
-Rio Grande do SulWidespreadIntroducedBorghese, 2005
-RondoniaPresentIntroducedBorghese, 2005
-RoraimaPresentIntroducedBorghese, 2005
-Santa CatarinaWidespreadIntroducedCockrill, 1977Subspecies bubalis
-Sao PauloWidespreadIntroducedCockrill, 1977Subspecies bubalis
-SergipePresentIntroducedBorghese, 2005
-TocantinsPresentIntroducedBorghese, 2005
French GuianaPresentIntroduced1900Cockrill, 1977Subspecies kerabau; feral population eliminated; small domestic population
GuyanaPresentIntroduced1900Cockrill, 1977Subspecies kerabau. Small domestic and feral populations
PeruLocalisedIntroducedLong, 2003Introduced to Amazonas area in northern Peru.
SurinameLocalisedIntroduced1895Cockrill, 1977Subspecies kerabau were introduced from French Guiana
VenezuelaPresentIntroducedLong, 2003; Borghese, 2005Subspecies kerabau; primarily used for meat production. Feral population probably exterminated

Europe

AlbaniaPresent Not invasive Cockrill, 1977; Borghese, 2005Predominantly ssp. bubalis
BulgariaPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977; Borghese, 2005Not known when buffaloes were introduced but certainly by A.D. 814. All ssp. bubalis.
FranceAbsent, formerly presentIntroduced1800Long, 2003Napoleon made an unsuccessful attempt at introducing buffalo at Landes upon his return from Egypt.
GermanyAbsent, formerly presentIntroducedLong, 2003An unsuccessful attempt was made to introduce buffalo
GreecePresent only in captivity/cultivationby 500 Not invasive Cockrill, 1977; Long, 2003Small population, in Thrace and Macedonia. All ssp. bubalis
HungaryPresent only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977; Long, 2003Small population of ssp. bubalis
ItalyPresent only in captivity/cultivation6th-8th century Not invasive Cockrill, 1977; Long, 2003; Borghese, 2005Predominantly ssp. bubalis. Large population increase in recent decades
RomaniaPresent only in captivity/cultivation1400 Not invasive Cockrill, 1977; Borghese, 2005Predominantly ssp. bubalis
SpainAbsent, formerly presentIntroduced Not invasive Long, 2003An unsuccessful attempt was made to introduce buffalo
Yugoslavia (former)Present only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Cockrill, 1977; Long, 2003Predominantly ssp. bubalis
Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro)Present only in captivity/cultivation Not invasive Long, 2003

Oceania

AustraliaPresentIntroduced Invasive Jesser et al., 2008Feral population in Northern territory; small numbers farmed in all states
-Australian Northern TerritoryWidespreadIntroduced1820 Invasive Letts, 1962; Mulvaney, 2004; Petty et al., 2007; Werner, 2014; Australian Government, 2015First introduced on Melville Island and on mainland Australia at Port Essington, and spread over 150 years to occupy most of the wet-dry tropical region of the Northern Territory with a population of over 400,000. Subspecies kerabau
-QueenslandLocalisedIntroduced Not invasive Jesser et al., 2008Small feral and farmed populations
-Western AustraliaLocalisedIntroduced Not invasive P. Werner, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia, personal communication, 2015; Jesser et al., 2008Feral and farmed
GuamLocalised1988Introduced17th century Invasive Long, 2003Introduced by Spanish missionaries from the Philippines. A large feral herd exists near the Naval magazine but has declined due to hunting
Papua New GuineaPresentIntroducedCockrill, 1977; Long, 2003Subspecies kerabau. Small domestic and feral populations

History of Introduction and Spread

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B. bubalis spread throughout South-east Asia, Pakistan and Afghanistan soon after domestication in China and India (about 4000 and 5000 years ago (Long, 2003; Yindee et al., 2010)). In the ancient era to the Middle Ages (500 B.C. - 1000 A.D.) buffalo were introduced to Egypt and north Africa, southern Europe and the Middle East, and to the island archipelagos of SE Asia (Philippines, Indonesia) (Long, 2003; McIntosh, 2007). From the peak era of European colonialism in the 19th century to the post-colonial era of the 1940s-1980s buffalo were introduced to sub-Saharan Africa, South America, Australia (McKnight, 1976; Ridpath, 1991), the Caribbean, New Guinea and Hawaii (Long, 2003). The African introductions were largely unsuccessful and the Hawaiian herds were eradicated, but wild populations of buffalo persist in South America, Australia and New Guinea to this day, and they are farmed in large numbers in South America.

Introductions

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Introduced toIntroduced fromYearReasonIntroduced byEstablished in wild throughReferencesNotes
Natural reproductionContinuous restocking
Argentina Romania 1910 Animal production (pathway cause) No No Cockrill (1977)
Argentina 1900 Hunting, angling, sport or racing (pathway cause) No No Long (2003)
Australian Northern Territory Indonesia 1820s/1860s Animal production (pathway cause) Yes No Petty et al. (2007); Ridpath (1991) Approx. 100 animals introduced with first English settlers. Farming abandioned within decades; large feral population established.
Brazil French Guiana 1900-1910 Animal production (pathway cause) Yes No Cockrill (1977) First buffalo were imported to Amazon delta
Brazil Suriname 1900-1910 Animal production (pathway cause) Yes No Cockrill (1977) First buffalo were imported to Amazon delta
Brazil Italy 1900-1910 Animal production (pathway cause) Yes No Cockrill (1977)
Brazil Egypt 1900-1910 Animal production (pathway cause) Yes No Cockrill (1977)
Brazil India 1900-1910 Animal production (pathway cause) Yes No Cockrill (1977)
Brazil India 1940s-1960s Animal production (pathway cause) Yes No Borghese (2005) A second wave of buffalo importations occurred from 1940–1960
Congo Italy 1963-1977 Animal production (pathway cause) No No Cockrill (1977); Long (2003) There were several attempts to introduce domestic buffalo herds, but none were successful. Buffalo are not likely to have naturalized
Congo Sri Lanka 1963-1977 Animal production (pathway cause) No No Cockrill (1977); Long (2003) There were several attempts to introduce domestic buffalo herds, but none were successful. Buffalo are not likely to have naturalized
Congo Pakistan 1963-1977 Animal production (pathway cause) No No Cockrill (1977); Long (2003) There were several attempts to introduce domestic buffalo herds, but none were successful. Buffalo are not likely to have naturalized
Cuba Trinidad and Tobago 1983-1989 Animal production (pathway cause) No No Borghese (2005) Subspecies bubalis
Cuba Panama 1983-1989 Animal production (pathway cause) No No Borghese (2005) Subspecies bubalis
Cuba Australia 1983-1989 Animal production (pathway cause) No No Borghese (2005) Subspecies kerabau
Eritrea Egypt 1933 Animal production (pathway cause) No No Long (2003)
Florida Guam  1974 Animal production (pathway cause) ,
Biological control (pathway cause) ,
Research (pathway cause)
No No NRC (2002) Introduced for research on aquatic weed control, and as a source of milk and meat
France Egypt 1800 Animal production (pathway cause) No No Long (2003) Buffalo were brought in by Napoleon after his Egypt campaign, but were not successfully established
French Guiana Indochina 1880 Animal production (pathway cause) No No Cockrill (1977) Subspecies kerabau were brought from French Indochina for labour; later ssp. bubalis was brought in (source unspecified) for milk production
Hawaii 19th cent. No No Long (2003) Introduced as a draught animal? Feral herds were increasing in population on Molokai and the Big Island in early 1900s, however all buffalo were eradicated by 1940
Madagascar India 1957 Animal production (pathway cause) No No Cockrill (1977)
Mozambique Italy 1945, 1969 Animal production (pathway cause) No No Cockrill (1977)
Nigeria Australia 1975 Animal production (pathway cause) No No Cockrill (1977)
Papua New Guinea Australia 1891-1950 Animal production (pathway cause) Yes No Long (2003) There were several introductions from 1891 – 1960. A small feral population is present on the island of New Britain
Papua New Guinea Philippines 1891-1950 Animal production (pathway cause) Yes No Long (2003) There were several introductions from 1891 – 1960. A small feral population is present on the island of New Britain
Papua New Guinea Indonesia 1891-1950 Animal production (pathway cause) Yes No Long (2003) There were several introductions from 1891 – 1960. A small feral population is present on the island of New Britain
South Africa 1904 Botanical gardens and zoos (pathway cause) No No Cockrill (1977) A few small herds are kept in zoological gardens and private zoos.
Suriname French Guiana 1895 No No Cockrill (1977) Subspecies kerabau; for labour and meat
Suriname Indonesia 1895 No No Cockrill (1977) Subspecies kerabau; for labour and meat
Tanzania Egypt 1920s/1960s Animal production (pathway cause) No No Cockrill (1977) There were several attempts to introduce domestic buffalo but all failed due to trypanosomiasis
Tanzania India 1920s/1960s Animal production (pathway cause) No No Cockrill (1977) There were several attempts to introduce domestic buffalo but all failed due to typanosomiasis
Trinidad and Tobago India 1900 Animal production (pathway cause) No No Borghese (2005) Subspecies bubalis
Uganda India 1971 Animal production (pathway cause) No No Cockrill (1977)
Venezuela Latin America 1900 Animal production (pathway cause) No No Cockrill (1977)

Risk of Introduction

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B. bubalis can survive in the wild and spread rapidly in tropical floodplain regions. Buffalo have high fecundity and are able to spread much more rapidly than similar bovids under identical conditions (McMahon et al., 2011). In Australia they have spread across the northern floodplains despite past hunting pressure and more recent eradication campaigns, and are now again expanding in population after a major cull in the 1980s (Petty et al., 2007). They are most at risk of spreading in areas of the neotropics (e.g. the lower Amazon basin) and the Australian tropics where there are low human population densities and no natural diseases, predators or large browsers that compete with buffalo (Sheikh et al., 2006; Werner, 2014). In Asia, wild populations are relatively low, probably because buffalo are a valuable economic resource and are kept in domestic herds. In Africa the Asian water buffalo is highly susceptible to trypanosomiasis and competition with other grazers and there have been few successful introductions (Borghese, 2005; Cockrill, 1977).

Habitat

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B. bubalis can tolerate a wide range of temperatures in captivity. In the wild, however, they are principally found in the tropics in areas with available open water. They can easily die in hot conditions (>38°C) as they are deficient in sweat glands relative to their size (Werner 2014).  During hot periods, they spend a good part of the day bathing in water and/or wallowing in mud to reduce heat stress and insect bites.  In the absence of water to wallow in, they can survive by seeking shade and will behave much like cattle (Tulloch and Litchfield, 1981). They possess the capacity to graze plants under water, unlike cattle, and so the main food of feral animals is found in aquatic habitats. For feral animals, wetland habitats are important for food, but adjacent dry lands are equally important as nurseries for juvenile buffalo and as night-time resting locations (references in Ridpath 1991; Werner 2014).

Habitat List

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CategorySub-CategoryHabitatPresenceStatus
Terrestrial
Terrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-naturalFloodplains Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Floodplains Principal habitat Natural
Floodplains Principal habitat Productive/non-natural
 
Terrestrial – ManagedCultivated / agricultural land Principal habitat Productive/non-natural
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Principal habitat Productive/non-natural
Industrial / intensive livestock production systems Principal habitat Productive/non-natural
Natural forests Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural forests Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Natural forests Secondary/tolerated habitat Productive/non-natural
Natural grasslands Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural grasslands Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Natural grasslands Secondary/tolerated habitat Productive/non-natural
Riverbanks Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Riverbanks Principal habitat Natural
Riverbanks Principal habitat Productive/non-natural
Wetlands Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Wetlands Principal habitat Natural
Wetlands Principal habitat Productive/non-natural
Littoral
Mangroves Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Mangroves Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Mangroves Secondary/tolerated habitat Productive/non-natural
Freshwater
 
Irrigation channels Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Irrigation channels Principal habitat Natural
Irrigation channels Principal habitat Productive/non-natural
Lakes Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Lakes Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Lakes Secondary/tolerated habitat Productive/non-natural
Reservoirs Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Reservoirs Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Reservoirs Secondary/tolerated habitat Productive/non-natural
Rivers / streams Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Rivers / streams Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Rivers / streams Secondary/tolerated habitat Productive/non-natural
Ponds Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Ponds Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Ponds Secondary/tolerated habitat Productive/non-natural

Biology and Ecology

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Genetics

River buffalo (B. bubalis ssp. bubalis) have 50 chromosomes, while swamp buffalo (ssp. kerabau) have 48. Cross-breeds are generally successful and have 49 chromosomes (Borghese, 2005). Both subspecies of buffalo were domesticated independently of one another, hence their distinct genetics (Yindee et al., 2010). Buffalo are generally highly diverse with numerous varieties and breeds, and new breeds being trialled continuously (Borghese, 2005). The wild population of northern Australia is genetically homogenous (McMahon et al., 2011), being descended from stock populations totalling only about 100 animals and also having gone through another population bottleneck as a result of the BTEC destocking campaign in the 1980s (Petty et al., 2007).

Reproductive Biology

Domesticated buffalo do not have a distinct breeding season, and females can theoretically conceive at any time of the year. In captivity buffalo are managed to control the breeding cycle (Borghese, 2005). Wild buffalo in northern Australia tend to breed in the late wet season (February – April), and have calves the following wet season after an 11-month gestation, probably linked to increased resource availability at this time of year (Werner, 2014; Tulloch, 1970, 1979). Most births are single and twins are rare (Tulloch, 1979). Calves are raised by mothers in small family groupings (“clans”). Suckling usually lasts 1 year, and calves generally remain with their mothers for at least two years. Males are usually driven off after this time, but cows may remain with their mothers for a lifetime (Tulloch, 1979).

Physiology and Phenology

Buffalo have a relatively low number of sweat glands per unit area of skin and are highly susceptible to overheating (Sitwell, 1988). In temperatures above 34°C buffalo suffer lower rates of growth and milk production and higher calf mortality (Mahadevan, 1992).

Longevity

Buffalo can live for up to 30 years in captivity (Long, 2003).

Activity Patterns

Free-living buffalo tend to be sedentary with limited home ranges. Cows and calves form herds and movement is stereotyped, typically ranging between a grazing area (often a floodplain) and a dry upland area (preferably with a stand of trees); at least one of the habitats will have a permanent waterhole  Typically, there will be no more than a few hundred metres between each area (Tulloch, 1978), but distances can range up to 4 km in the late dry season of monsoonal areas such as Australia (Petty et al., 2007). Bulls are ejected from the herd by the time they are three years old and can range over several kilometres until an opening occurs to oversee (be in close proximity to) a new family group (cf. references in Ridpath 1991).

Population Size and Structure

Free-living buffalo tend to form family groups (“clans”) of a cow, often aged, and her offspring (including adult cows and males up to three years). Cows tend to stay with their mothers over their lifetimes. These clans tend to coalesce in herds of 30 – 500 which have a limited home range and can thus have a large grazing impact locally. Males over three years are driven out by a dominant bull, and bulls tend to be solitary and much more wide ranging than cows (Tulloch, 1978).

Population densities in wetland habitats in Australia are typically around 6/km2, with maximum densities of 36/km2 reported (Werner, 2014).

Nutrition

As buffalo are agricultural animals there is an enormous literature on buffalo nutritional requirements to maximise production under specific conditions, e.g. meat production, lactation and breeding (Borghese, 2005). Broadly speaking, buffalo are highly efficient grazers with fewer nutritional requirements and a broader diet than cattle (Angulo et al., 2005; Ohly and Hund, 2000). They can consume 6 to 30 kg of dry matter per day (Williams and Ridpath, 1982; Considine, 1985). A comparison of studies of feral buffalo in both northern Australia and the Amazon basin show that buffalo consume a similar suite of floodplain grasses and sedges in both regions (Tulloch and Cellier, 1986; Camarao et al., 2004); woody plants are consumed in overgrazed areas. They fill a similar ecological niche to large ruminants elsewhere in the world (Werner, 2014), and in Australia, where historically large grazers were absent, they have altered ecosystem processes (Petty et al., 2007).

Associations

Most buffalo are domestic animals and are strongly associated with humans, although there are feral populations, in particular in the Northern Territory of Australia. The cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) is often associated with buffalo herds. It is thought that buffalo brought the buffalo fly (Siphona exigua) and possibly the cattle tick (Rhipicephalus multiplus) to Australia (Ford and Tulloch, 1982).

Environmental Requirements

The ideal habitats for water buffalo are floodplain environments with a mixture of abundant grasses and available water bodies. Access to water is critical for thermoregulation and often limits the ability of buffalo to seek fresher pastures. In Australia's Northern Territory, if the rain was late in coming after a typically prolonged dry season, wild buffalo would die of starvation en masse having stripped the ground bare (Petty et al., 2007). The dry lands fringing wetlands are equally important; buffalo use these as resting spots, to give birth to young, and as nurseries for juveniles.

Water buffalo prefer tropical monsoon or savanna climates, but they can be successfully farmed in wetter, drier or cooler climates, including warmer temperate regions.

Climate

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ClimateStatusDescriptionRemark
A - Tropical/Megathermal climate Tolerated Average temp. of coolest month > 18°C, > 1500mm precipitation annually
Af - Tropical rainforest climate Tolerated > 60mm precipitation per month
Am - Tropical monsoon climate Preferred Tropical monsoon climate ( < 60mm precipitation driest month but > (100 - [total annual precipitation(mm}/25]))
As - Tropical savanna climate with dry summer Tolerated < 60mm precipitation driest month (in summer) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
Aw - Tropical wet and dry savanna climate Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in winter) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
BW - Desert climate Tolerated < 430mm annual precipitation
C - Temperate/Mesothermal climate Tolerated Average temp. of coldest month > 0°C and < 18°C, mean warmest month > 10°C
Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year Tolerated Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year
Cs - Warm temperate climate with dry summer Tolerated Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry summers
Cw - Warm temperate climate with dry winter Tolerated Warm temperate climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry winters)

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
42 30

Air Temperature

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Parameter Lower limit Upper limit
Absolute minimum temperature (ºC) 0
Mean annual temperature (ºC) 17 26
Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC) 39
Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC) 5

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Crocodylus porosus Predator All Stages not specific N
Panthera pardus Predator All Stages not specific N
Trypanosoma Parasite All Stages not specific N

Notes on Natural Enemies

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B. bubalis suffer from similar diseases to cattle, although they tend to show greater resistance. Trypanosomiasis appears to have limited the successful introduction of the species to sub-Saharan Africa (Borghese, 2005; Cockrill, 1977).  Tigers (Panthera tigris) and panthers (Panthera pardus) will prey on buffalo (Tamang and Baral, 2008; Chauhan, 2005) in south Asia, as will crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) in the Northern Territory of Australia. However, given that during the height of the buffalo hide and meat industry in the Northern Territory up to 10% of the total population of buffalo were being culled annually by humans with little appreciable impact on population increase (Petty et al., 2007) it is unlikely that predators would significantly reduce the density or spread of feral buffalo.

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Most B. bubalis are domesticated and natural dispersal is limited. As a highly valued stock animal, however, they have been transported to every continent except Antarctica.

Natural Dispersal

In the wild, buffalo clans have relatively restricted home ranges, with female home ranges often restricted to less than 6 km2 over a buffalo lifetime (Tulloch, 1978). Bulls range more widely but are still limited to a range whose size is of the order of tens of km2. Despite their limited home range, it is well documented that in northern Australia buffalo spread from introductions of fewer than 100 animals in total at a handful of sites to cover a region of 224,000 km2 in 150 years (Werner, 2014).

Accidental Introduction

No accidental introductions of buffalo are known, but feral populations have often resulted from the escape of domestic animals.

Intentional Introduction

Buffalo are large animals highly prized as stock animals and have been intentionally introduced throughout much of the world as meat and milk producers and draught animals. While most herds are carefully controlled, escaped buffalo have become feral numerous times. Most feral populations are localised, although in northern Australia there are large feral populations.

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Animal productionFor meat and milk, and as a draught animal Yes Yes Borghese, 2005; Cockrill, 1977
Biological controlIntroduced by University of Florida (USA) for research as a control agent for aquatic weeds, as well Yes NRC, 2002
Botanical gardens and zoosE.g. introduced in 1904 for a zoo in Pretoria, S Africa. Probably in many zoos around the world Yes Cockrill, 1977
Hunting, angling, sport or racingIntroduced to Argentina for hunting; hunting also popular in Brazil and Australia Yes Albrecht et al., 2009; Cockrill, 1977; Long, 2003
ResearchIntroduced by University of Florida (USA) for research as a control agent for aquatic weeds, as well Yes NRC, 2002
Self-propelledRapidly spread unaided across Northern Australia Yes Long, 2003; Petty et al., 2007

Impact Summary

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CategoryImpact
Cultural/amenity Positive
Economic/livelihood Positive
Environment (generally) Negative
Human health Positive

Economic Impact

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B. bubalis are valued as stock animals and generally there are few negative economic or social impacts arising from their presence. However, conflict can arise particularly with destructive feral populations. In the East-Godavari delta of Andhra Pradesh province, India, a feral population is browsing the mangroves, inhibiting regeneration of this economically valuable resource (Dahdouh-Guebas et al., 2006). In the Amazon basin there is conflict in the dry season from buffalo occupying fishing holes and trampling gardens as well competition with cattle for grazing lands (Sheikh et al., 2006).

There is potential for B. bubalis to act as a reservoir and vector for the spread of brucellosis and tuberculosis in cattle, and this was the reason for the eradication campaign in Australia in the 1980s, although despite their harbouring both diseases it was unclear whether they actually were a significant threat to cattle (Petty et al., 2007; A. Petty, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia, personal communication, 2015).

Environmental Impact

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Impact on Habitats

The environmental impact of feral B. bubalis is best understood from Kakadu National Park in northern Australia, where there has been substantive research into buffalo impacts (there are extensive references in review papers by Petty et al. (2007) and Werner (2014)).

Australian tropical savannas: B. bubalis has a profound impact on savanna ecology in northern Australia. When population densities of buffalo increased to maximum carrying capacity in the mid-1970s after hunting for hides ceased, the effect was a shift in herbaceous species on the floodplains and adjacent dry lands, resulting in secondary changes in some animal populations (cf. section below on impact on biodiversity).  Experimental studies of the savanna woodlands showed that in the short term, buffalo reduced fire frequency and grass cover, enhancing established adult tree growth and favouring juvenile woody vegetation (Werner 2005; Werner et al., 2006).  However, because buffalo also ate or crushed juvenile trees in the late dry season, the long-term trend was an overall reduction in tree canopy cover; effects of buffalo activity were more profound in drier habitats (Petty et al., 2007).  Once buffalo numbers were reduced by 90%, recovery of the more resilient floodplains was rapid, but that of the adjacent woodlands was very slow (Petty et al. 2007).

Australian floodplains: Floodplains are the favoured habitat of Asian water buffalo and during the 1960s and 1970s, when they were at their highest population densities, they were concentrated on the floodplains and profoundly altered their ecology and hydrology (Petty et al., 2007). Trampling and grazing increased erosion in the wet season, resulting in large-scale saltwater intrusion and the transformation of freshwater ecosystems to salt-water ones. Trampling, rubbing and limited browsing resulted in a marked decrease in tree canopy cover across the floodplains (Bowman et al., 2010; Petty et al., 2007). Removal of buffalo in the mid-1970s and 1980s resulted in the rapid recovery of floodplain ecosystems (Petty et al., 2007).

Australian rainforests: Buffalo frequently rest in the densely-wooded rainforest pockets fringing floodplains (Tulloch, 1978). At high densities, buffalo could have a severe impact on rainforests principally through soil and root compaction, browsing, wallowing and rubbing, resulting in tree mortality and a reduction in the extent and density of monsoon forest vegetation (Braithwaite et al., 1984; Russell-Smith and Bowman, 1992).

Impact on Biodiversity

There is little recorded in the literature on the impact of B. bubalis on native fauna. In northern Australia, there was a decline in the population of Magpie Geese (Anseranas semipalmata; Frith and Davies, 1961; Tulloch and McKean, 1983; Corbett and Hertog, 1996) as buffalo destroyed their floodplain habitat. Populations of the dusky rat (Rattus colletti) also declined (Friend et al., 1988). Both species recovered after buffalo were removed. According to Georges and Kennett (1989), buffalo in the same region also threaten the pig-nosed turtle, Carettochelys insculpta, by trampling of nests. The impacts of buffalo on fauna in northern Australia is due to alteration of habitat, not direct competition (Werner, 2014).

Threats to the endangered wild buffalo, Bubalus arnee, include interbreeding with feral and domestic B. bubalis where the two species overlap (IUCN, 2014).

Threatened Species

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Threatened SpeciesConservation StatusWhere ThreatenedMechanismReferencesNotes
Bubalus arneeEN (IUCN red list: Endangered) EN (IUCN red list: Endangered)HybridizationIUCN, 2014
Carettochelys insculptaVU (IUCN red list: Vulnerable) VU (IUCN red list: Vulnerable)TramplingGeorges and Kennett, 1989
Partula gibba (humped tree snail)CR (IUCN red list: Critically endangered) CR (IUCN red list: Critically endangered); USA ESA listing as endangered species USA ESA listing as endangered species; Northern Mariana IslandsEcosystem change / habitat alteration
Partula radiolata (Guam tree snail)CR (IUCN red list: Critically endangered) CR (IUCN red list: Critically endangered); USA ESA listing as endangered species USA ESA listing as endangered speciesEcosystem change / habitat alterationUS Fish and Wildlife Service, 2015
Samoana fragilis (fragile tree snail)CR (IUCN red list: Critically endangered) CR (IUCN red list: Critically endangered); USA ESA listing as endangered species USA ESA listing as endangered species; Northern Mariana IslandsEcosystem change / habitat alteration
Zosterops conspicillatus conspicillatus (bridled white-eye)USA ESA listing as endangered species USA ESA listing as endangered speciesEcosystem change / habitat alteration; Herbivory/grazing/browsingUS Fish and Wildlife Service, 2009

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Is a habitat generalist
  • Highly mobile locally
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Gregarious
  • Has high genetic variability
Impact outcomes
  • Altered trophic level
  • Damaged ecosystem services
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Increases vulnerability to invasions
  • Modification of fire regime
  • Modification of hydrology
  • Modification of nutrient regime
  • Modification of successional patterns
  • Negatively impacts animal health
  • Threat to/ loss of endangered species
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Fouling
  • Herbivory/grazing/browsing
  • Hybridization
  • Trampling

Uses

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There are approximately 168 million B. bubalis worldwide. The vast majority (> 99%) are domesticated farm and pastoral animals. They are used as draught animals and for meat, milk and leather.

Economic Value

Buffalo milk production is a major industry producing almost 100 million tonnes of milk in 2011. In the same year approximately 3.5 million tonnes of meat and 1 million tonnes of hides were produced (FAO, 2013).

Sheikh et al. (2006) suggest that if properly managed buffalo may be less environmentally destructive and more productive than cattle on Amazon floodplains.

Social Benefit

B. bubalis was one of the earliest domesticated animals and the people of Asia, where domestication took place, have developed a strong cultural bond with it. Many nations (e.g., India, parts of China, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia) have festivals surrounding the water buffalo. Some Australian aborigine clans have adopted the water buffalo as an important totem animal since its introduction. The Gagadju aboriginal people in Kakadu National Park operate a buffalo farm from which they harvest meat.

Environmental Services

B. bubalis are grazers and fill the niche occupied by other grazers in grassland and savanna ecosystems (or fill unoccupied niches such as in northern Australia (Werner, 2014)). As such they will reduce fuel loads and can reduce fire intensity although, as with other grazers, this needs to be balanced with other impacts arising from grazing, particularly in ecosystems that evolved independently of strong grazing pressure (Petty et al., 2007; Werner, 2014).

Uses List

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Animal feed, fodder, forage

  • Meat and bonemeal

General

  • Botanical garden/zoo
  • Capital accumulation
  • Draught animal
  • Ritual uses
  • Sociocultural value
  • Sport (hunting, shooting, fishing, racing)

Human food and beverage

  • Cheese
  • Cream
  • Ghee
  • Meat/fat/offal/blood/bone (whole, cut, fresh, frozen, canned, cured, processed or smoked)
  • Milk
  • Yoghurt

Materials

  • Skins/leather/fur

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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B. bubalis is similar to other large ruminants, particularly the native wild Asian buffalo (B. arnee) and the African buffalo (Syncerus caffer).

Prevention and Control

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B. bubalis are relatively easy to detect and to cull. The Australian experience is a good example of control of feral herds over a large area relatively unpopulated by humans. In 1975 in the Northern Territory of Australia, the Conservation Commission culled the buffalo from a nature reserve in the centre of what was later to become Kakadu National Park (Petty et al., 2007). This cull was largely done from the ground. From 1980 to 1992 the Brucellosis and Tuberculosis Eradication Campaign (BTEC) successfully eliminated over 99% of buffalo from Kakadu National Park and neighbouring western Arnhem Land (Skeat et al., 1996; Robinson and Whitehead, 2003). Techniques used included ground live culling, helicopter surveillance and aerial shooting, and the use of “judas” buffalo with tracking collars to find isolated herds (Ridpath and Waithman, 1988).  Since then, sporadic culling has been carried out on a local basis.

Mitigation

Buffalo damage can easily be mitigated by restricting population levels, and in the case of feral herds, regular culling to keep population levels low. There seems to be relatively little damage to ecosystems from low densities of buffalo and indeed there may be a net benefit in reducing fire frequency and fuel loads (Petty et al., 2007).

Ecosystem Restoration

No restoration programs have been attempted on buffalo-damaged land in northern Australia. The floodplains have recovered relatively rapidly from extensive buffalo damage after populations have been reduced, although there have been long-lasting changes in savanna woodlands due to the presence of buffalo (Petty et al., 2007).

Gaps in Knowledge/Research Needs

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Little published research could be found into the numbers or environmental impacts of feral water buffalo on Amazonian floodplains, although some is reported in conference abstracts (e.g. Martinez, 2002). There is likely to be more information in the Portuguese-language literature.

References

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Addeo F, Mercier JC, Ribardeau Dumas B, 1977. J. Dairy Res., 44:445.

Albrecht G, McMahon CR, Bowman DMJS, Bradshaw CJA, 2009. Convergence of culture, ecology, and ethics: management of feral swamp buffalo in Northern Australia. Journal of Agricultural & Environmental Ethics, 22(4):361-378. http://springerlink.metapress.com/link.asp?id=102919

Alikodra HS, 1987. The exotic plantation of Acacia nilotica and its problems in the savanna ecosystem of the Baluran National Park. (Tanaman eksotik akasia (Acacia nilotica) dan masalahnya bagi ekosistem savanna di Taman Nasional Baluran.) Duta Rimba, 13(79-80):30-34.

Angulo RA, Noguera RR, Berdugo JA, 2005. The water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) an efficient user of nutrients; aspects on fermentation and ruminal digestion. (El búfalo de agua (Bubalus bubalis) un eficiente utilizador de nutrientes: aspectos sobre fermentación y digestión ruminal.) Livestock Research for Rural Development, 17(6):article 67.

Askar AA, Ragab MT, Ghazy MS, 1953. Repeatability and heritability of some characters in Egyptian buffaloes. Ind. J. Dairy Sci., 6:61-65.

Australian Government, 2015. Feral Animals on Offshore Islands Database. Canberra, ACT, Australia: Australian Government. http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/invasive-species/feral-animals-australia/offshore-islands

Badreldin et al., 1951. Effects of seasonal variation on body temperature, respiration rate and pulse rate of cattle and buffaloes. Cairo Univ. Faculty Agriculture. Bull. No. 4.

Barile VL, Galasso A, Pacelli C, Francillo M, Cigliano A, Penna L, Panfili M, Fiorini M, Borghese A, 1999. Conception rate in synchronized and artificially inseminated buffalo cows in two different seasons under field conditions. Recent progress in animal production science. 1. Proceedings of the A.S.P.A. XIII Congress, Piacenza, Italy, 21-24 June, 1999., 262-264; 10 ref.

Benjamin R, 1999. A note on buffalo semen. Buffalo Newsletter, No. 13.

Bhalla RC, Sengar DPS, Jain CG, 1964. Biometry of the genital tract of the buffalo cow. Indian Vet. J., 41:327-331.

Bhattacharya NK, Mullick DN, 1965. Comparative study of mechanical factors in ruminant digestion. Ind. J. Expt. Biol., 21:255.

Borghese A, 2005. Buffalo production and research. REU Technical Series, No.67:315 pp. ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/010/ah847e/ah847e.pdf

Bowman DMJS, Prior LD, Little SC de, 2010. Retreating Melaleuca swamp forests in Kakadu National Park: evidence of synergistic effects of climate change and past feral buffalo impacts. Austral Ecology, 35(8):898-905. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/(ISSN)1442-9993

Braithwaite RW, Dudzinski ML, Ridpath MG, Parker BS, 1984. The impact of water buffalo on the monsoon forest ecosystem in Kakadu National Park. Australian Journal of Ecology, 9(4):309-322; [ORS]; 46 ref.

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Links to Websites

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WebsiteURLComment
Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO)http://www.fao.org/home/en/
GISD/IASPMR: Invasive Alien Species Pathway Management Resource and DAISIE European Invasive Alien Species Gatewayhttps://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.m93f6Data source for updated system data added to species habitat list.

Organizations

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Italy: Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00153 Rome, http://www.fao.org/home/en/

Contributors

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12/08/13: Original text for Invasive Species Compendium sections by:

Aaron Petty, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, NT 0909, Australia

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