The water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis), a ruminant mammal of the Bovidae family, is a very important dairy and work animal in many countries of Asia and Africa (see Mammals). It does not live in water as the name might imply, rather it has been domesticated along the watercourses such as river sides in the Asian subcontinent.
The name probably is to distinguish it from bison (Bison bison) which has long enjoyed the designation of `buffalo‘ in the American continent. According to FAO, there are at the beginning of the third millennium about 170 million buffaloes in some 30 countries ranging from Australia through Indonesia and the Philippines: in Asia they are found in Thailand, China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Burma, Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt; in Europe, in Italy, Romania and Bulgaria.
Among these countries, India (55%), China (15%) and Pakistan (10%) comprise most of the population which is only one-ninth of the bovine population of the world. There are two main types: the swamp buffalo and the river buffalo.
What Are The Various Types Of Water Buffalo?
The swamp buffalo is the principal work animal of rice-growing countries of Southeast Asia. The countries that hold the greatest numbers are China and Thailand.
Animals are used to plough and harrow, and to puddle the paddy ®elds before planting rice. Pulling carts and sledges is also common. They are rarely milked but are often eaten towards the end of their long working life. There is only one breed, the swamp buffalo, with many types and strains.
These are usually stockily built with huge variation in their size or weight (250 to 1000 kg) and also in the darkness or lightness of their grey colour. The long horns grow outward laterally and horizontally in the young animals and curve round in a semicircle as the animal gets older. The degree of horn curvature and size varies.
The river buffalo is primarily a dairy animal which differs from swamp buffalo both genetically (the river buffalo has a chromosome number of 50 while the swamp buffalo has 48) and in its physical appearance.
River buffaloes are very docile and easygoing animals, which prefer to wallow in clear water compared to swamp buffalo that prefer a mud wallow. India and Pakistan are home to most of the river buffaloes of the world. Many breeds and varieties are found including famous Nili-Ravi, Kundi, Murrah, Jafarabadi, Surti and the Mediterranean.
There is a wide variation in colour and horn shape. The animals are mostly black but other shades such as grey and slatey grey do occur. There may be white markings on forehead and lower half of legs along with a white switch of the tail. Brown-coloured water buffaloes are also not uncommon. Piebalds and albinos also exist. The horns are usually short and may curl tightly forward, downward or backward. Some breeds possess uncurled long horns similar to those of swamp buffaloes.
For example, the horns are tightly curled and set close to the head (downswept) in the Jaffarabadi, Kundi, Murrah and Nili-Ravi breeds. In Bhadawari, Mediterranean, Mehsana and Surti they are sickleshaped and upswept. Adult body weight varies widely across breeds. In the heavy breeds males may weigh 500±600 kg while females usually weigh 450±500 kg. There are no polled buffalo breeds and unlike with cows, farmers do not like to dehorn them.
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