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|Female water buffalo and calf|
|Global distribution of buffaloes in 2004|
|Female water buffalo and calf|
|Global distribution of buffaloes in 2004|
The water buffalo or domestic Asian water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) is a large bovid originating in South, Southeast Asia and China. Today, it is also found in Europe, Australia and in some American countries.
Two extant types of water buffalo are recognized based on morphological and behavioural criteria – the river buffalo of South Asia and further west to the Balkans, Egypt and Italy, and the swamp buffalo, found from Assam in the west through Southeast Asia to the Yangtze valley of China in the east. The origins of the domestic water buffalo types are debated, although results of a phylogenetic study indicate that the swamp type may have originated in China and was domesticated about 4,000 years ago, while the river type may have originated from India and was domesticated about 5,000 years ago. Water buffaloes were traded from the Indus Valley Civilisation, in modern Pakistan, to Mesopotamia, in modern Iraq, 2500 BC by the Meluhhas. The seal of a scribe employed by an Akkadian king shows the sacrifice of water buffaloes.
Water buffaloes are especially suitable for tilling rice fields, and their milk is richer in fat and protein than that of the dairy cow. The large feral population of northern Australia became established in the late 19th century, and there are smaller feral herds in New Guinea, Tunisia and northeastern Argentina. There are at least 130 million domestic water buffalo, and more human beings depend on them than on any other domestic animal.
The skin of river buffaloes is black, but some specimens may have dark slate-coloured skin. Swamp buffaloes have a grey skin at birth but become slate blue later. Albinoids are present in some populations. River buffaloes have comparatively longer faces, smaller girth and bigger limbs than swamp buffaloes. The dorsal ridge extends further back and tapers off more gradually. Their horns grow downward and backward, then curve upward in a spiral. Swamp buffaloes are heavy-bodied and stockily built, the body is short and the belly large. The forehead is flat, the eyes prominent, the face short and the muzzle wide. The neck is comparatively long, the withers and croup are prominent. A dorsal ridge extends backward and ends abruptly just before the end of the chest. Their horns grow outward, and curve in a semicircle, but always remain more or less on the plane of the forehead. The tail is short, reaching only to the hocks. Height at withers is 129–133 cm (51–52 in) for males, and 120–127 cm (47–50 in) for females. They range in weight from 300–550 kg (660–1,210 lb), but weights of over 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) have also been observed.
The swamp buffalo has 48 chromosomes; the river buffalo has 50 chromosomes. The two types do not readily interbreed, but fertile offspring can occur. Buffalo-cattle hybrids have not been observed to occur, and the embryos of such hybrids do not reach maturity in laboratory experiments.
The rumen of the water buffalo has important differences from that of other ruminants. It contains a larger population of bacteria, particularly the cellulolytic bacteria, lower protozoa and higher fungi zoospores. In addition, higher rumen ammonia nitrogen (NH4-N) and higher pH have been found as compared to those in cattle.
River buffaloes prefer deep water. Swamp buffaloes prefer to wallow in mudholes which they make with their horns. During wallowing, they acquire a thick coating of mud. Both are well adapted to a hot and humid climate with temperatures ranging from 0 °C (32 °F) in the winter to 30 °C (86 °F) and greater in the summer. Water availability is important in hot climates since they need wallows, rivers or splashing water to assist in thermoregulation. Some breeds are adapted to saline seaside shores and saline sandy terrain.
Water buffaloes thrive on many aquatic plants and during floods, will graze submerged, raising their heads above the water and carrying quantities of edible plants. They eat reeds (quassab), a giant reed (birdi), a kind of bulrush (kaulan), water hyacinth and marsh grasses. Some of these plants are of great value to local peoples. Others, such as water hyacinth, are a major problem in some tropical valleys, and water buffaloes may help to keep waterways clear.
Green fodders are used widely for intensive milk production and for fattening. Many fodder crops are conserved as hay, chaffed or pulped. Fodders include alfalfa, berseem and bancheri, the leaves, stems or trimmings of banana, cassava, fodder beet, halfa, ipil-ipil and kenaf, maize, oats, pandarus, peanut, sorghum, soybean, sugarcane, bagasse and turnips. Citrus pulp and pineapple wastes have been fed safely to buffaloes. In Egypt, whole sun-dried dates are fed to milk-buffaloes up to 25% of the standard feed mixture.
Swamp buffaloes generally become reproductive at an older age than river breeds. Young males in Egypt, India and Pakistan are first mated at about 3–3.5 years of age but in Italy they may be used as early as 2 years of age. Successful mating behaviour may continue until the animal is 12 years or even older. A good river male can impregnate 100 females in a year. There is a strong seasonal influence on mating. Heat stress reduces libido.
Although buffaloes are polyoestrus, their reproductive efficiency shows wide variation throughout the year. Buffalo cows exhibit a distinct seasonal change in displaying oestrus, conception rate and calving rate. The age at first oestrus of heifers varies between breeds from 13–33 months but mating at the first oestrus is often infertile and usually deferred until they are 3 years old. Gestation lasts from 281–334 days, but most reports give a range of between 300 and 320 days. Swamp buffaloes carry their calves for one or two weeks longer than river buffaloes. It is not rare to find buffaloes that continue to work well at the age of 30, and there are recorded instances of a working life of 40 years.
Carl Linnaeus first described the genus Bos and the water buffalo under the binomial Bubalis bubalus in 1758; the latter was known to occur in Asia and as a domestic form in Italy. Ellerman and Morrison-Scott treated the wild and domestic forms of the water buffalo as conspecifics whereas others treated them as different species. The nomenclatorial treatment of wild and domestic forms has been inconsistent and varies between authors and even within the works of single authors.
In March 2003, the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature achieved consistency in the naming of wild and domestic water buffaloes by ruling that the scientific name Bubalus arnee is valid for the wild form. Bubalus bubalis continues to be valid for the domestic form and applies also to feral populations.
Water buffaloes were domesticated in India about 5000 years ago, and in China about 4000 years ago. Two types are recognized, based on morphological and behavioural criteria – the river buffalo of the Indian subcontinent and further west to the Balkans and Italy, and the swamp buffalo, found from Assam in the west through Southeast Asia to the Yangtze valley of China in the east. The present day river buffalo is the result of complex domestication processes involving more than one maternal lineage and a significant maternal gene flow from wild populations after the initial domestication events. There are 22 breeds of the river type water buffalo known including Murrah, Nili-Ravi, Surti, Jafarabadi, Anatolian, Mediterranean and Egyptian buffalo. China has a huge variety of buffalo genetic resources, comprising 16 local swamp buffalo breeds in various regions.
Results of mitochondrial DNA analyses indicate that the two types were domesticated independently. Sequencing of cytochrome b genes of Bubalus species implies that the domestic buffalo originated from at least two populations, and that the river and the swamp types have differentiated at the full species level. The genetic distance between the two types is so large that a divergence time of about 1.7 million years has been suggested. The swamp type was noticed to have the closest relationship with the tamaraw.
The water buffalo population in the world is about 172 million.
More than 95.8% of the world population of water buffaloes are found in Asia including both river and swamp types. The water buffalo population in India numbered over 97.9 million head in 2003 representing 56.5% of the world population. They are primarily of the river type with 10 well-defined breeds comprising Badhawari, Murrah, Nili-Ravi, Jafarabadi, Marathwada, Mehsana, Nagpuri, Pandharpuri, Toda and Surti. Swamp buffaloes occur only in small areas in the north-eastern part of the country and are not distinguished into breeds.
In 2003, the second largest population lived in China with 22.759 million heads, all of the swamp type with breeds kept only in the lowlands, and other breeds kept only in the mountains; as of 2003 there were 3.2 million swamp type Carabao buffaloes in the Philippines, nearly three million swamp buffaloes in Vietnam, and 772,764 buffaloes in Bangladesh. About 750,000 head were estimated in Sri Lanka in 1997.
The water buffalo is the main dairy animal in Pakistan with 23.47 million head in 2010. Of these, 76% are kept in the Punjab. Breeds comprise Nili-Ravi, Kundi and Azi Kheli. Karachi has the largest population of water buffalos for an area where fodder is not grown, consisting of 350,000 head kept mainly for milking.
In Thailand, the number of water buffalo dropped from more than 3 million heads in 1996 to less than 1.24 million heads in 2011. Slightly over 75% of them are kept in the country's northeastern region. The statistics also indicate that by the beginning of 2012, there were less than one million in the country, partly as a result of illegal shipments to neighboring countries where sales prices are higher than in Thailand.
It is generally considered that water buffaloes were introduced to Europe from India or other Oriental countries. To Italy they were introduced about the year 600 in the reign of the Longobardian King Agilulf. As they appear in the company of wild horses, it seems probable that they were a present from the Khan of the Avars, a Turkish nomadic tribe that dwelt near the Danube River at the time. Sir H. Johnston knew of a herd of water buffaloes presented by a King of Naples to the Bey of Tunis in the mid 19th century that had resumed the feral state in northern Tunis.
European buffaloes are all of the river type and considered to be of the same breed named Mediterranean buffalo. In Italy the Mediterranean type was particularly selected and is called Mediterranean Italian breed to distinguish it from other European breeds, which differ genetically. Mediterranean buffalos are also found in Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Albania, Kosovo and Republic of Macedonia, and a few hundred in the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Hungary. There has been little exchange of breeding buffaloes among countries, therefore each population has its own phenotypic features and performances. In Bulgaria, they were crossbred with the Indian Murrah breed, and in Romania some were crossbred with Bulgarian Murrah. Populations in Turkey are of the Anatolian buffalo breed.
Between 1824 and 1849, water buffalos were introduced into the Northern Territory from Timor, Kisar and probably other islands in the Indonesian archipelago. In 1886, a few milking types were brought from India to Darwin. They have been the main grazing animals on the sub-coastal plains and river basins between Darwin and Arnhem Land since the 1880s. In the early 1960s, an estimated population of 150,000 to 200,000 buffalos were living in the plains and nearby areas.
They became feral and are causing significant environmental damage. Buffalo are also found in the Top End. As a result, they were hunted in the Top End from 1885 until 1980. The commencement of the Brucellosis and Tuberculosis Campaign (BTEC) resulted in a huge culling program to reduce buffalo herds to a fraction of the numbers that were reached in the 1980s. The BTEC was finished when the Northern Territory was declared free of the disease in 1997. Numbers dropped dramatically as a result of the campaign, but have since recovered to an estimated 150,000 animals across northern Australia in 2008.
During the 1950s, buffalo were hunted for their skins and meat, which was exported and used in the local trade. In the late 1970s, live exports were made to Cuba and continued later into other countries. Buffalo are now crossed with riverine buffalo in artificial breeding (AI) programs, and may be found in many areas of Australia. Some of these crossbreds are used for milk production. Melville Island is a popular hunting location, where a steady population of up to 4,000 individuals exist. Safari outfits are run out of Darwin to Melville Island and other locations in the Top End, often with the use of bush pilots. The horns, which can measure up to a record of 3.1 m (10 ft) tip-to-tip, are prized hunting trophies.
The buffalo have developed a different appearance from the Indonesian buffalo from which they descend. They live mainly in freshwater marshes and billabongs, and their territory range can be quite expansive during the wet season. Their only natural predators in Australia are large adult saltwater crocodiles, with whom they share the billabongs, and dingoes, which have been known to prey on buffalo calves and occasionally adult buffalos when the dingoes are in large packs.
Buffalos were exported live to Indonesia until 2011, at a rate of about 3000 per year. After the live export ban that year, the exports dropped to zero, and had not resumed as of June 2013.
Water buffalo were introduced into the Amazon River basin in 1895. They are now extensively used there for meat and dairy production. In 2005, the buffalo herd in the Brazilian Amazon stood at approximately 1.6 million head, of which approximately 460,000 were located in the lower Amazon floodplain. Breeds used include Mediterranean from Italy, Murrah and Jafarabadi from India, and Carabao from the Philippines.
In 1974, four water buffaloes were imported to the United States from Guam for being studied at the University of Florida. In February 1978, the first herd arrived for commercial farming. Until 2002, there was only one commercial breeder in the United States. Water buffalo meat is imported from Australia. Until 2011, water buffaloes were raised in Gainesville, Florida, from young obtained from zoo overflow. They were used primarily for meat production, frequently sold as hamburger. Other local ranchers use them for production of high-quality mozzarella cheese.
The husbandry system of water buffaloes depends on the purpose for which they are bred and maintained. Most of them are kept by people who work on small farms in family units. Their buffaloes live in very close association with them, and are often their greatest capital asset. The women and girls in India generally look after the milking buffaloes while the men and boys are concerned with the working animals. Throughout Asia, they are commonly tended by children who are often seen leading or riding their charges to wallowing places. Water buffaloes are the ideal animals for work in the deep mud of paddy fields because of their large hoofs and flexible foot joints. They are often referred to as “the living tractor of the East”. It is generally accepted that it is possible to plough deeper with buffaloes than with either oxen or horses. They are the most efficient and economic means of cultivation of small fields. In most rice-producing countries, they are used for threshing and for transporting the sheaves during the rice harvest. They provide power for oilseed mills, sugarcane presses and devices for raising water. They are widely used as pack animals, and in India and Pakistan also for heavy haulage. In their invasions of Europe, the Turks used buffaloes for hauling heavy battering rams. Their dung is used as a fertilizer, and as a fuel when dried.
Buffaloes contribute 72 million tones of milk and three million tones of meat annually to world food, much of it in areas that are prone to nutritional imbalances. In India river type buffaloes are kept mainly for milk production and for transport, whereas swamp type buffaloes are kept mainly for work and a very small amount of milk.
Water buffalo milk presents physicochemical features different from that of other ruminant species, such as a higher content of fatty acids and proteins. The physical and chemical parameters of swamp and river type water buffalo milk differs. Water buffalo milk contains higher levels of total solids, crude protein, fat, calcium, phosphorus and slightly higher content of lactose compared with those of cow milk. The high level of total solids makes water buffalo milk ideal for processing into value added dairy products such as cheese. The conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) content in milk ranged from 4.4 mg/g fat in September to 7.6 mg/g fat in June. Seasons and genetics may play a role in variation of CLA level and changes in gross composition of the water buffalo milk.
|Top ten buffalo milk producers — 11 June 2008|
|India||56,960,000||Unofficial, Semi-official, mirror data|
|People's Republic of China||2,900,000||FAO estimate|
|World||85 396 902|
Water buffalo meat, sometimes called "carabeef", is often passed off as beef in certain regions, and is also a major source of export revenue for India. In many Asian regions, buffalo meat is less preferred due to its toughness; however, recipes have evolved (rendang, for example) where the slow cooking process and spices not only makes the meat palatable, but also preserves it, an important factor in hot climates where refrigeration is not always available.
The water buffalo may affect the environment in either positive or negative ways.
Wildlife and conservation scientists have started to recommend and use introduced populations of feral domestic water buffalo in far away lands to manage uncontrolled vegetation growth in and around natural wetlands. Introduced water buffalo at home in such environs provide cheap service by regularly grazing the uncontrolled vegetation and opening up clogged water bodies for waterfowl, wetland birds and other wildlife. Grazing water buffalo are sometimes used in Great Britain for conservation grazing, such as in Chippenham Fen National Nature Reserve. It was found that the buffalos can better adapt to wet conditions and poor-quality vegetation than cattle.
Currently, research is being conducted at the Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies to determine the levels of nutrients removed and returned to wetlands when water buffalo are used for wetland vegetation management.
However, in uncontrolled circumstances, water buffalo can cause environmental damage, such as trampling vegetation, disturbing bird and reptile nesting sites, and spreading exotic weeds.
The world's first cloned buffalo was developed by Indian scientists from National Dairy Research Institute, Karnal. The buffalo calf was named Samrupa. The calf did not survive more than a week, and died due to some genetic disorders. So, the scientists created another cloned buffalo a few months later, and named it Garima.
On 15 September 2007, the Philippines announced its development of Southeast Asia's first cloned buffalo. The Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD), under the Department of Science and Technology in Los Baños, Laguna approved this project. The Department of Agriculture's Philippine Carabao Center (PCC) will implement "Cloning through somatic cell nuclear transfer as a tool for genetic improvement in water buffaloes". "Super buffalo calves" will be produced. There will be no modification or alteration of the genetic materials, as in genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
On 1 January 2008, the Philippine Carabao Center in Nueva Ecija, per Filipino scientists, initiated a study to breed a super water buffalo that could produce 4 to 18 litres of milk per day using gene-based technology. Also, the first in vitro river buffalo was born there in 2004 from an in vitro-produced, vitrified embryo, named "Glory" after President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Joseph Estrada's most successful project as an opposition senator, the PCC was created through Republic Act 3707, the Carabao Act of 1992.
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