Water buffalo have been domesticated by humans for more than 5,000 years. They have supplied people with meat, horns, hides, milk, butterfat, and power, plowing and transporting people and crops. Today it often referred to as the “living tractor of the East,” as it is relied upon for plowing and transportation in so many parts of Asia.

Water buffalo are harder to maintain than cattle because they eat more and need to be kept watered and cooled, stall fed and are regarded as too clumsily to care for themselves. Water buffalo cost more to purchase than cattle but are favored by Asian dairy farmers and rice because they produce larger amounts of richer, buttery milk for long period of time and they are ideal for plowing rice fields because they like the water and are stronger than cattle or oxen.

Water buffalo are subdued with a rope and ring through their nose. They are pulled around by nose ring. In Bangladesh a water buffalo cost about $300. Water buffalo races and fights are held in many places. Because of their ability to labor in a water-logged environment, water buffaloes have been the animal of choice in rice paddies. At work the animals holds their head low and thrust their nose forward

Water Buffalo and Farming

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. [Source: Wikipedia +]

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 Attack and Environmental Impact of Water Buffalo

In October 2004, the Imphal Free Press reported: “An old man was seriously injured when he was attacked by a buffalo while he was at a house at Khumidhok Umang Leikai. The buffalo was later shot by the police after it became wild. Local sources said that the man identified as Md. Manikhan (70) of Khumidhok Umang Leikai, a maiba by profession was suddenly attacked by the buffalo while he was examining an ailing child of his locality at the house. The buffalo also damaged the house of the family after it attacked the old man. As the buffalo became wild, the locals reported to the Heingang police and the police killed the buffalo by shooting it at Heingang pat. The injured person has been evacuated to JN hospital and is now under the care of doctors in serious condition. [Source: Imphal Free Press, October 10, 2004]

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, for example to manage Chippenham Fen NNR. These buffalo have been found to be better suited to the wet conditions and poor-quality vegetation than many 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. + See Other Water Buffalo Article About Feral Buffalo in Australia.

Water Buffalo Cloning and the Water Buffalo Genome

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. +

In 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).

In 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.

The world’s first cloned water buffalo was produced in China in 2005. The Shenzhen Daily and news agencies reported: “The world’s first water buffalo cloned from somatic cells was born in South China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The buffalo’s heart rate, temperature and breathing were normal. About 30 minutes after the birth, the calf stood up and nursed, said doctor Shi Deshun, head of the research project at Guangxi University. The calf, which was born at 4:15 a.m., weighed 23 kilograms and was 86 centimeters long and 62.5 centimeters tall, said Shi. The calf was cloned with ovary cells taken from an adult native buffalo and transplanted into the 12-year-old female buffalo April 10, 2004. “The birth of the calf proves our somatic cell clone technology is mature and this technology will greatly promote cattle breeding in China,” said the doctor. “Our university has another two buffaloes pregnant with calves cloned with somatic cells and they are expected to be born this year,” he said. [Source: www.chinaview.cn , March 21, 2005]

In 2014, it was reportedly that the sequence of water buffalo genome was completed. Science Daily reported: “Scientists have completed the genome sequencing of water buffalo. The outstanding work lays an important foundation for molecular breeding of water buffalo, and sheds new light on the understanding of its origin and domestication process. Lal Teer Livestock Limited, an associate of LalTeer Seed Ltd., the largest seed company in Bangladesh with strong hybrid research program, and BGI, the world's largest genomics organization, jointly announced today that they have completed the genome sequencing of water buffalo and the bioinformatics analysis. The outstanding work lays an important foundation for molecular breeding of water buffalo, and sheds new light on the understanding of its origin and domestication process. [Source: ScienceDaily, BGI Shenzhen, January 24, 2014]

Buffalo is known as "Black Gold" due to its contribution to economy, which is being reared as milk, meat, hide and bone sources all over the world. In particular, it could provide more than 5 percent of the world's milk supply and 20 percent to 30 percent of the farm power in Southeast Asia. Considering the importance of buffalo and realizing the need of genomic research for its improvement, Lal Teer Livestock took a great effort for "The Whole Genome Sequencing of Water Buffalo" in collaboration with BGI since March 2012. The joint efforts yielded a high-quality water buffalo genome with the size of about 2.77Gb, slightly smaller than human genome. There are 21,550 protein coding genes found in total. Researchers compared buffalo genome with other mammals', such as cattle, horse, panda, pig, and dog for discovering more genetic characteristics of water buffalo and providing guidance for its breeding and industrial transformation.

"We are pleased to form partnership with Lal Teer Livestock to decode this important animal, " said, Professor Jian Wang, President of BGI, "BGI is dedicated to using genomics technology to benefit human beings, and we have contributed to the sequencing of many critical crops and livestock including rice, maize, soybean, potato, pigeonpea, pig and sheep. BGI is continuing to make more progress for facing the challenges on food shortage and safety, as well contribute to the development and wellbeing of local society." "With the joined forces with BGI, we are excited to successfully complete the task of sequencing water buffalo." stated Mr. Tafsir Mohammed Awal, Director of Lal Teer, "This will now lay the foundation of ensuring nutrition and food security in Bangladesh and other developing countries."

Water Buffalo Milk, Meat and Leather

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. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Water buffalo milk is processed into a large variety of dairy products: 1) cream churns much faster at higher fat levels and gives higher overrun than cow cream;2) butter from water buffalo cream displays more stability than that from cow cream; 3) ghee from water buffalo milk has a different texture with a bigger grain size than ghee from cow milk; 4) heat-concentrated milk products in India include paneer, khoa, rabri, kheer and basundi; 5) fermented milk products include dahi, yogurt, chakka; 6) whey is used for making Ricotta and Mascarpone in Italy, and Alkarish in Syria and Egypt; 7) soft cheeses include Mozzarella in Italy, Karish, Mish and Domiati in Egypt, Madhfor in Iraq, Alghab in Syria, Vladeasa in Romania; 8) the semi-hard cheese Beyaz peyneri is made in Turkey; 9) hard cheeses include Braila in Romania, Rahss in Egypt, White brine in Bulgaria and Akkawi in Syria; 10) watered-down buffalo milk is used as a cheaper alternative to regular milk.

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.[citation needed]

Water buffalo hide provides tough and useful leather, often used for shoes and motorcycle helmets. The bones and horns are often made into jewellery, especially earrings. Horns are used for the embouchure of musical instruments, such as ney and kaval.

World’s Top Water Buffalo Exporting and Importing Countries

World’s Top Exporters of Buffaloes (2020): 1) Thailand: 63510 head; 2) Canada: 25734 head; 3) India: 20000 head; 4) Thailand: 17433 tonnes; 5) Belgium: 2088 head; 6) United States: 1661 head; 7) Russia: 747 head; 8) Malaysia: 692 head; 9) Russia: 320 tonnes; 10) Laos: 221 head; 11) Switzerland: 129 head; 12) Hungary: 84 head; 13) Hungary: 30 tonnes; 14) Croatia: 28 head; 15) Poland: 28 head; 16) Croatia: 20 tonnes; 17) Namibia: 15 tonnes; 18) United Arab Emirates: 13 tonnes; 19) Poland: 12 tonnes; 20) Costa Rica: 11 tonnes [Source: FAOSTAT, Food and Agriculture Organization (U.N.), fao.org]

World’s Top Exporters (in value terms) of Buffaloes (2020): 1) Canada: US$60134,000; 2) Thailand: US$36626,000; 3) Russia: US$1500,000; 4) United States: US$1222,000; 5) India: US$800,000; 6) Malaysia: US$197,000; 7) Laos: US$80,000; 8) Hungary: US$78,000; 9) Poland: US$68,000; 10) Croatia: US$49,000; 11) Costa Rica: US$25,000; 12) Tanzania: US$17,000; 13) Belgium: US$11,000; 14) Switzerland: US$7,000; 15) Italy: US$2,000; 16) Namibia: US$1,000; 17) Niger: US$1,000; 18) Romania: US$1,000; 19) Brazil: US$1,000; 20) Uganda: US$1,000

World’s Top Importers of Buffaloes (2020): 1) Vietnam: 86833 head; 2) India: 60000 head; 3) Laos: 49423 head; 4) United States: 33969 head; 5) Thailand: 27873 head; 6) Laos: 13566 tonnes; 7) United States: 10970 tonnes; 8) Thailand: 7638 tonnes; 9) Indonesia: 6671 head; 10) Indonesia: 1935 tonnes; 11) Brunei Darussalam: 1221 head; 12) Italy: 1088 head; 13) Italy: 626 tonnes; 14) Kazakhstan: 320 tonnes; 15) Mozambique: 151 head; 16) Greece: 92 head; 17) Haiti: 73 head; 18) Netherlands: 68 head; 19) Russia: 43 head; 20) Netherlands: 33 tonnes [Source: FAOSTAT, Food and Agriculture Organization (U.N.), fao.org]

World’s Top Importers (in value terms) of Buffaloes (2020): 1) United States: US$59589,000; 2) Vietnam: US$34959,000; 3) Laos: US$30699,000; 4) India: US$30000,000; 5) Thailand: US$5249,000; 6) Indonesia: US$4100,000; 7) Italy: US$2163,000; 8) Brunei Darussalam: US$838,000; 9) Mozambique: US$188,000; 10) Russia: US$171,000; 11) Greece: US$96,000; 12) Haiti: US$67,000; 13) Switzerland: US$52,000; 14) Nicaragua: US$28,000; 15) Saudi Arabia: US$21,000; 16) Comoros: US$19,000; 17) Ireland: US$9,000; 18) Ghana: US$8,000; 19) Cambodia: US$7,000; 20) Croatia: US$5,000

World’s Top Water Buffalo Milk, Ghee, Fat, Cheese and Butter Producing Countries

World’s Top Producers of Whole Fresh Buffalo Milk (2020): 1) India: 90026273 tonnes; 2) Pakistan: 37256000 tonnes; 3) China: 2919966 tonnes; 4) Egypt: 1747641 tonnes; 5) Nepal: 1380600 tonnes; 6) Italy: 253830 tonnes; 7) Myanmar: 205102 tonnes; 8) Iran: 128000 tonnes; 9) Mongolia: 104645 tonnes; 10) Indonesia: 89983 tonnes; 11) Sri Lanka: 77903 tonnes; 12) Turkey: 77781 tonnes; 13) Iraq: 37737 tonnes; 14) Bangladesh: 35695 tonnes; 15) Vietnam: 26983 tonnes; 16) Romania: 16100 tonnes; 17) Bulgaria: 15930 tonnes; 18) Malaysia: 7419 tonnes; 19) Syria: 6868 tonnes; 20) Georgia: 6209 tonnes [Source: FAOSTAT, Food and Agriculture Organization (U.N.), fao.org. A tonne (or metric ton) is a metric unit of mass equivalent to 1,000 kilograms (kgs) or 2,204.6 pounds (lbs). A ton is an imperial unit of mass equivalent to 1,016.047 kg or 2,240 lbs.]

World’s Top Producers (in terms of value) of Whole Fresh Buffalo Milk (2019): 1) India: Int.$49196398,000 ; 2) Pakistan: Int.$18379667,000 ; 3) China: Int.$1565926,000 ; 4) Egypt: Int.$1127909,000 ; 5) Nepal: Int.$734152,000 ; 6) Italy: Int.$133392,000 ; 7) Myanmar: Int.$109489,000 ; 8) Iran: Int.$68447,000 ; 9) Indonesia: Int.$45707,000 ; 10) Turkey: Int.$42427,000 ; 11) Sri Lanka: Int.$39339,000 ; 12) Iraq: Int.$19241,000 ; 13) Bangladesh: Int.$19138,000 ; 14) Vietnam: Int.$14551,000 ; 15) Romania: Int.$7754,000 ; 16) Bulgaria: Int.$7059,000 ; 17) Malaysia: Int.$4113,000 ; 18) Syria: Int.$3411,000 ; 19) Georgia: Int.$3305,000 [An international dollar (Int.$) buys a comparable amount of goods in the cited country that a U.S. dollar would buy in the United States.]

Top ten buffalo milk producers in 2008 ( Production (tonnes): 1) India: 56,960,000: Unofficial, Semi-official, mirror data; 2) Pakistan: 21,500,000, official figure; 3) People's Republic of China: 2,900,000, FAO estimate; 4) Egypt: 2,300,000, FAO estimate; 5)Nepal: 930,000, FAO estimate; 6) Iran: 241,500, FAO estimate; 7) Burma: 205,000, FAO estimate; 8) Italy: 200,000, FAO estimate; 9) Turkey: 35,100, FAO estimate; 10) Vietnam: 31,000, World production (2008): 85,396, 902 tons.

World’s Top Producers of Buffalo Milk Butter (2019): 1) India: 950000 tonnes; 2) Pakistan: 625515 tonnes; 3) Egypt: 73921 tonnes; 4) Nepal: 24309 tonnes; 5) China: 8785 tonnes; 6) Turkey: 2380 tonnes; 7) Iraq: 930 tonnes; 8) Bangladesh: 274 tonnes

World’s Top Producers of Buffalo Milk Cheese (2019): 1) Egypt: 212396 tonnes; 2) China: 11713 tonnes

World’s Top Producers of Buffalo Fat (2020): 1) India: 98155 tonnes; 2) Pakistan: 78260 tonnes; 3) China: 47806 tonnes; 4) Egypt: 7204 tonnes; 5) Nepal: 3790 tonnes; 6) Vietnam: 3095 tonnes; 7) Myanmar: 1922 tonnes; 8) Philippines: 1686 tonnes; 9) Indonesia: 1136 tonnes; 10) Laos: 785 tonnes; 11) Thailand: 609 tonnes; 12) Bangladesh: 324 tonnes; 13) Iran: 292 tonnes; 14) Colombia: 258 tonnes; 15) Cambodia: 221 tonnes; 16) Iraq: 214 tonnes; 17) Sri Lanka: 158 tonnes; 18) Malaysia: 113 tonnes; 19) Timor-Leste: 24 tonnes; 20) Syria: 18 tonnes; Taiwan: 18 tonnes

World’s Top Producers of Water Buffalo Meat, Offals and Hides

World’s Top Producers of Buffalo Meat (2020): 1) Vietnam: 96732 tonnes; 2) Timor-Leste: 673 tonnes; 3) Thailand: 19033 tonnes; 4) Syria: 597 tonnes; 5) Sri Lanka: 3940 tonnes; 6) Philippines: 60205 tonnes; 7) Pakistan: 1118000 tonnes; 8) Nepal: 189517 tonnes; 9) Myanmar: 55394 tonnes; 10) Malaysia: 6549 tonnes; 11) Laos: 21601 tonnes; 12) Iraq: 5928 tonnes; 13) Iran: 8065 tonnes; 14) Indonesia: 24875 tonnes; 15) India: 1599559 tonnes; 16) Egypt: 260462 tonnes; 17) Colombia: 7137 tonnes; 18) China: 672265 tonnes; 19) Cambodia: 6911 tonnes; 20) Bangladesh: 6771 tonnes [Source: FAOSTAT, Food and Agriculture Organization (U.N.), fao.org]

Offals are the intestines and internal organs of an animal consumed as food. World’s Top Producers of Edible Buffalo Offals (2020): 1) India: 269017 tonnes; 2) China: 209149 tonnes; 3) Pakistan: 109564 tonnes; 4) Egypt: 41563 tonnes; 5) Nepal: 37903 tonnes; 6) Myanmar: 12435 tonnes; 7) Philippines: 10355 tonnes; 8) Vietnam: 10254 tonnes; 9) Indonesia: 5299 tonnes; 10) Laos: 3927 tonnes; 11) Thailand: 1865 tonnes; 12) Bangladesh: 1411 tonnes; 13) Cambodia: 1382 tonnes; 14) Iran: 1344 tonnes; 15) Colombia: 1190 tonnes; 16) Sri Lanka: 1025 tonnes; 17) Iraq: 988 tonnes; 18) Malaysia: 428 tonnes; 19) Syria: 119 tonnes; 20) Timor-Leste: 112 tonnes

World’s Top Producers of Fresh Buffalo Hides (2020): 1) India: 352630 tonnes; 2) China: 194210 tonnes; 3) Pakistan: 145340 tonnes; 4) Nepal: 31839 tonnes; 5) Egypt: 29371 tonnes; 6) Vietnam: 17992 tonnes; 7) Myanmar: 7574 tonnes; 8) Philippines: 7104 tonnes; 9) Indonesia: 4110 tonnes; 10) Laos: 3142 tonnes; 11) Bangladesh: 2680 tonnes; 12) Thailand: 2246 tonnes; 13) Cambodia: 1382 tonnes; 14) Iran: 1360 tonnes; 15) Colombia: 1204 tonnes; 16) Sri Lanka: 1182 tonnes; 17) Iraq: 1000 tonnes; 18) Malaysia: 894 tonnes; 19) Timor-Leste: 114 tonnes; 20) Syria: 92 tonnes [Source: FAOSTAT, Food and Agriculture Organization (U.N.), fao.org]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Last updated April 2022

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