Several wild cattle species exist in Southeast Asia. Most live their lives hidden among the dense, but vanishing, forests of Asia,. Jeremy Hance of mongabay.com wrote: “On the Indonesian island of Sulawesi dwell two tiny wild cattle called anoas (lowland anoa: Bubalus depressicornis, and the mountain anoa: Bubalus quarlesi); likewise on the Philippine island of Mindoro roams a small, and Critically Endangered, buffalo-like animal known as the tamaraw (Bubalus mindorensis). Wild water buffalos (Bubalus arnee) still survive in India and wild yaks (Bos mutus) in Tibet. The large bovine, the gaur (Bos gaurus), makes its home across much of Central and Southeast Asia and is probably the least endangered of Asia's wild cattle species. The kouprey (Bos sauveli) was once found in a small region of Southeast Asia, but may now be extinct: an individual hasn't been seen since the 1980s. But not all wild cattle news is depressing: in 1992, scientists made the remarkable discovery of a new large mammal: the saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) in Vietnam. Although it looks like an antelope, the incredibly cryptic animal is actually most closely related to bovines. [Source: Jeremy Hance, mongabay.com , January 31, 2012 /:]

“In 1627, the last auroch (Bos primigenius) died in the forests of Poland. Once widespread throughout Europe, North Africa, and Asia, the auroch is the ancestors of today's familiar domesticated cattle. Aurochs, however, like banteng were wild; they were bigger, denser, and fiercer than today's domesticated version like comparing Superman with duller Clark Kent. They had to take on predators from wolves to leopard to lions. They even fought gladiators in the Roman games. These uber-cattle grace some of the world's earliest cave paintings and were worshiped by some ancient cultures. But the auroch eventually met its end due to many of the same forces that today imperil the banteng: habitat loss, over-hunting, and breeding with domestic cattle. While the auroch is long gone (though some researchers hope to re-create the species through genetic research) the banteng is not. There is still time to save this wild, rainforest bovine; this cryptic, orange-colored cow; this animal who has the capacity to change our minds about the mundaneness of cattle. /:\

Deer, water buffalo, cattle, sheep, goats, yaks, antelopes, giraffes, and their relatives are ruminants---cud-chewing mammals that have a distinctive digestive system designed to obtain nutrients from large amounts of nutrient-poor grass. Ruminants evolved about 20 million years ago in North America and migrated from there to Europe and Asia and to a lesser extent South America, where they never became widespread. Antelope, cattle and guar belong to the Order Artiodactyla and the family Bovidae. Deer belong to the Order Artiodactyla, Suborder Ruminantia and Famil Cervidae.

Types of Wild Cattle in Asia

Kouprey in 1937

The kouprey, or Cambodian forest ox, is one the rarest animals in Asia.Not identified until 1937 and possibly extinct today, it is 2..1 meters long, not including its one meter tail, and weighs 700 to 900 kilograms. Native to dense forests in central southeastern Asia, it looks a bit like a cow. Bulls are black or dark brown and have a pednulous dewlap and L-shaped horns. That split at the tips after three years growth. Females are paler in color. Both sexes have pale undersides and off-white legs. They are thought to form small, loose herds and are threatened by poaching and habitat loss.

The tiny chousingha, or four-horned antelope, is another very rare hoofed animal. Native to India and South Asia, it is 80 centimeters to one meter long, not including its 12 centimeters tail, and weighs 17 to 21 kilograms. Found mostly in dense forests and marshland, it feeds on grasses, sedges and other plants, usually near water or forested hills. The male has two pairs of horns, a unique feature among bovids. The front pair is only three to four centimeters long. The rear pair are about twice as long. Little is known about the shy, skittish chousingha. It communicate with low whistles for identification and barks for alarm. Its brownish coat has a dark stripe on the front of each leg, The muzzle and outer ear surfaces are black. Its offspring are smaller than cats.

The Banteng is cowlike animal that is 1.8 to 2.3 meters long, not including its 28 centimeter tail, and weighs 400 to 900 kilograms. Native to southeastern Asia, it exists in both wild and domesticated form. Bulls are black to dark chestnut in color. Females and young are reddish brown. Both sexes have white undersides, legs and rump patches. The male’s horns angle downwards then upwards and can reach a length of 75 centimeters. The horns of the female are shorter and crescent-shaped. Wild banteng live in female-young herds with two to 40 members along with a dominant male. There are also bachelor herds. During the monsoon season banteng head to the hills, returning to the lowlands in the dry season.

Jeremy Hance of mongabay.com wrote: “The banteng is a species of wild jungle cattle found in Southeast Asia. Jeremy Hance of mongabay.com wrote: The banteng is everything domestic cattle are not: rainforest-dwelling, wild, elusive, obscure, almost mystical. Yet for all that, the banteng are cattle. They just happen to be cattle of the tropical forests of Southeast Asia, sharing their dark verdured habitat with tigers, elephants, and rhinos. Although co-existing with such exotic animals, the banteng, in appearance, could almost be mistaken for domestic cattle; they are similar in both size and general impression, but a bit different in color and pattering: males sport a black coat with white stockings and rump, while females are tan to dark brown with similar stockings and rump. [Source: Jeremy Hance, mongabay.com , January 31, 2012 /:]


"Banteng are one of the few remaining species of totally wild bovids in the world," Penny Gardner, who is studying banteng in Borneo, says. "The behavior of the banteng is unique because they spend the majority of their time in dense remote forest, emerging at night and early morning to forage on grasses growing at the edge of the forest or in glades. They are incredibly elusive and rarely sighted." A PhD student at Cardiff University, Penny Gardner is currently tracking banteng in two protected areas—Tabin Wildlife Reserve and Malua BioBank—in the Malaysian state of Sabah through the Danau Girang Field Center and Sabah Wildlife Department.

Although wild banteng are found in several countries, including Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia, Borneo's banteng are considered by many to be a distinct subspecies. "They are the last large mammal of Borneo to be researched and very few people worldwide have heard of them.

Endangered Banteng

Jeremy Hance of mongabay.com wrote: “The threat of extinction is imminent; they are extinct from Brunei and Sarawak (Malaysia Borneo), and only occasional sightings of tracks are reported in Kalimantan (Indonesia Borneo). Sabah is the last stronghold, however the remaining forest habitat is fragmented and populations are isolated," she says. While the banteng is listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List, Gardner says that listing comes from a "crude population estimate conducted in the 1980s." Today, the species may be on the verge of disappearing. [Source: Jeremy Hance, mongabay.com , January 31, 2012 /:]

"In reality, [the banteng] is the second most endangered large mammal in Borneo, after the Sumatran Rhino," explains Gardner. The species, across its range, is being pummeled by deforestation and poaching. Forests across Southeast Asia are being converted into palm oil, rubber, paper and pulp plantations at record rates. Although a protected species in all of its range states, the banteng is still illegally hunted with law enforcement lacking due to a dearth of funds. Given low populations and fragmentation of habitat, Gardner says the banteng is also facing "a reduction of gene flow between populations, (probable) inbreeding, hybridization with domestic cattle and disease transmission with domestic livestock." With the number of threats extinction may appear inevitable, but the situation is not yet hopeless. /:\

Employing camera traps, Gardner has secured photos of a healthy herd in Malua BioBank, which was granted protection in 2008 largely due to its substantial population of orangutans. Given the banteng's well-known elusive personality, Gardner has depended heavily on camera traps to document the species. Camera traps, which take photos remotely of wildlife when an animal "trips" an infrared sensor, have become incredibly important to recent studies of rare tropical animals. Researchers are able to sift an incredible amount of information from photos. /:\

"In the meantime," says Gardner, "we need to ensure the perpetuity of all banteng herds, and other endangered fauna, by conserving and protecting their habitat, and by creating wildlife corridors between isolated forests. Additional steps include stemming the supply of illegal banteng meat by identifying hunting locations and supply chains, and tightening the penalties for those caught conducting this illegal activity, and increasing the awareness of this species through education and media both locally and globally." /:\

Although Gardner is focusing on the Bornean banteng, little more is known about the other subspecies on the Asian mainland and Indonesian islands. No one knows how many banteng survive in total, but it's likely not more than a few thousand. A few hundred banteng are thought to still survive in Cambodia's Mondulkiri Province; the Indonesian island of Java has four or five populations of over fifty animals each; populations in Thailand and Laos are likely very small; and no one knows about Myanmar. Almost all of these populations are declining due to similar problems: poaching and habitat loss. /:\

In a bizarre twist, the largest wild banteng population in the world is in Australia. Some 6,000 animals roam today on Australia's Cobourg Peninsula, all descended from around 20 individuals abandoned there in the late 19th Century. Technically an invasive species, Australia has had to ponder how to deal with the large endangered mammal. To date they have largely let it be give that the fish-out-of-water population is a possible safeguard against complete extinction: if little is done in Asia, Australia may be the banteng's last refuge. /:\

Studying Banteng

banteng in Java

"We use camera traps for confirming the presence of banteng, recording the times, dates and duration of their presence, identifying the number of individuals in a herd, and for monitoring breeding activity. The photographs also provide an indication of overall body condition, as well as capture unique scars and markings which allow us to recognize individuals. We create ID profiles for recognizable banteng and are able to monitor their growth, body condition, movement and herd association," explains Gardner adding that, "Collaborations with researchers studying other mammals using camera traps has provided additional photographs of banteng and, in some instances, I have been able to recognize banteng from photographs dating back years!" [Source: Jeremy Hance, mongabay.com , January 31, 2012 /:]

“The photos are becoming the foundation for the first-ever study of the Bornean banteng, including population, behavior, breeding, health, and range. Gardner and her team also examine tracks and dung. Meanwhile, a new and extremely ambitious part of the project is upcoming. "This year we aim to fit GPS-Satellite tracking devices to some individuals so we can estimate home range size, dispersal distances and use of the forest habitat; this will require thorough planning and preparation and, if successful, it will be a huge accomplishment and the turning point in our understanding of banteng's behavior in the surrounding environment landscape," says Gardner. /:\

“Once the masses of data is gathered and analyzed then comes the next step: conservation. The information from Gardner's work will eventually be used to come up with an action plan as to how best conserve the banteng in Sabah. Hopefully, the data will aid other banteng-range countries in developing additional plan to save the rainforest cattle. /:\

Sighting a Banteng

Jeremy Hance of mongabay.com wrote: “Despite the animal's scarcity and legendary shyness, Gardner has been fortunate enough during her long days of field work to run into the species—once. She says that her team was "incredibly lucky" to see a herd during July of last year, noting that "there are some people who have worked in the forest for decades and have never ever seen a banteng." [Source: Jeremy Hance, mongabay.com , January 31, 2012 /:]

"We were walking along the edge of the forest searching for Banteng tracks when we spotted the herd of approximately 15, which included young calves, juveniles, cows and one large bull," she says. "We were keen to take a closer look to see if we could identify any of the herd from the profile catalogue I’ve created [...] We approached the herd cautiously as we did not want to startle or disturb them so we kept partially hidden by the roadside shrubbery. We were positioned downwind from the herd so they could not pick up our scent however they still noticed us but [...] to my surprise they did not appear to be alarmed. The banteng were actually very curious about our presence and slowly moved towards us, stopping every few steps. Unfortunately the wind direction changed and they quickly picked up our scent and headed back into the forest. As they trotted back into the forest, we had a spectacular view of their characteristic white rump and stockings." /:\

The sighting actually convinced one of her field assistants that the banteng was in fact real and not a myth. Unlike orangutans, elephants, clouded leopards, and even Sumatran rhinos, the banteng is almost wholly unknown to the public. "I would say the vast majority of people within Sabah do not know about the banteng. Those people that have heard of them are either involved in wildlife research or protection, nature related tourism, or live near to the forest," says Gardner, adding that knowledge is likely even less abroad. "Globally speaking, the Banteng is probably only known to wild cattle specialists [...] Of the people I have spoken to, many have difficultly in believing there are wild cows (Bovidae) in the tropical jungles of Borneo and others are resolute the Banteng are not wild at all but are in fact feral cattle." /:\


Gaur are the world's largest wild cattle or wild bovines. Ranging from India through Southeast Asia, they are impressive-looking creatures with huge a muscled body and a relatively small head and have been described as looking like a "water buffalo on steroids.” They are related to the now-extinct wild ancestors of cows and cattle. Gayals are domestic versions of gaurs.

Gaurs are between 2.6 and 3.3 meters in length, stand 2.2 meters at the shoulder and weigh 700 to 1,000 kilograms and have massive buffalo-like horns up to 100 centimeters across. Both males and females have horns but the males tend to be more impressive. They start at the edge of the cranium and curve upwards. Males weigh more than many compact cars. Females are smaller.

Gaur have deep chests, thick muscles, a hump-like ridge on their back and legs that look too slim to support their large bodies. Gaur males are usually black or dark brown. Females are rust colored. The coat is short, coarse and fairly dense. The surface of their hair has a smooth, oily texture. Their legs are often white.

Gaur Behavior

Gaur spend their time in forests in small groups. During the daytime, gaurs rest in shadowy places and seek food in early morning and at dusk. Gaur have sharp senses of hearing and smell and run away when they sense human beings are close and become fierce only when they are injured or are cornered. They attack people only then. Gaurs are the largest wild oxen in the world. There are few animals that will challenge them in the forest. [Source: Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn]

Gaur favor remote hill forests, tropical forests, bamboo thickets and woodland interspersed with clearings. They are shy and either are solitary or live in small groups with four to eight individuals. They usually spend their day in the jungle, resting and chewing the cud, and only come out to graze at night, feeding on tender grasses, bamboo shoots and the young shoots of other plants They snort and toss their horns before they charge. Myna birds like to hang out on their backs.

Older males are often solitary. In the mating season---usually sometimes between November and April---they join the small herds and fight with younger males. When rutting males below out a distinctive call that can be heard a kilometers and a half away and attracts both females and males. After a gestation period of 270 to 280 days a female gives birth to a single young gaur (rarely twins). The calf is weaned at around nine months and reaches maturity the third year of its life.

Cloning Endangered Gaur

Gaur are endangered animals. There an estimated 450 to 500 of them in Malaysia, Their number elsewhere are unknown. By one estimate there are 36,000 gaur left. They are threatened by habitat loss and hunting. Hunters liked because they are big beefy creatures that provide lots of meat. Gaur are now being raised in captivity and helped programs aimed at making rain forests economically sustainable. Their skulls are collected to study their behavior.

Like the great herds of wildebeest and Cape buffalo in east Africa, gaurs are vulnerable to rinderpest, a viral disease transmitted by cattle that wander into their habitat. In 1975 a herd of gaur with 2,000 animals lost 300 members to the disease. With ditches and fence built to keep the cattle out of their reserves the number of gaur has rebounded.

Swamp buffalo and river buffalo can breed successfully even though they have a number of different chromosomes. In contrast horses and donkeys produce sterile mules. In 2001, a gaur named Noah became the first endangered animal to be cloned. Born to a dairy cow, he lived only two days before dying of an infection. The team that performed the cloning, led by Dr. Robert Lanza of the Massachusetts biotechnology firm Advanced Cell Technology, was disappointed about the death but pleased the cloning came off and was optimistic about the potential of the technology to save endangered animals. There are plans to maybe use the same or similar technology on pandas.

Noah was the product of the fusion of DNA from skin cells taken from a gaur that died in the early 1990s at the San Diego Zoo with the eggs (oocytes) from dairy cows killed in a an abattoir. The nucleus was taken out of the skin cell and placed in hollowed-out cow eggs using a special needle. A pulse of electricity caused the cow egg and gaur egg to fuse. Out of 692 fused cells 81 grew and divided into 100-cell "cell balls" and these were shipped to Iowa and implanted in surrogate cows. Forty-four cell balls were implanted into 32 surrogate cows. Only Noah survived.

Domesticated mammals that have been cloned include: 1) sheep (Dolly in 1997) ; 2) bull (1999, leading to a debate about the safety of milk and meat from cloned animals) ; 3) pigs (2000, opening the way for cloning animals to produce organs); 4) goat (2000, the first one died of abnormal lung development); 5) cat (2002, quickly followed by the formation of a company to make clones of cherished pets); 6) mule (2003, the first hybrid clone, mules are offspring of a horse and a donkey); 7) dog (2005, achieved with an Afghan by South Korean researchers) ; 8) water buffalo (achieved in China in 2005); 9) horse (2005, achieved with a surrogate mother that was also a genetic donor).

Wild mammals that have been cloned include: 1) mice (50 clones created from a single mouse in 1998); 2) gaur (2001, the first clone of an endangered species) ; 3) mouflon (2001, the first clone of an endangered species to survive infancy); 4) rabbit (2002); 5) rat (2003, difficult to achieve as it eggs begin dividing almost instantaneously) ; 6) African wildcat (2004, with a domesticated cat serving as a surrogate mother); 7) ferret (2006); 8) wolf (2007, achieved with two gray wolves by South Korean researchers).

Water Buffaloes

Water buffalo are used for plowing and other forms of labor and as a source of meat, leather and milk. They are found throughout Asia and in places like Turkey, Italy, Australia and Egypt as well. They are mostly found in places where there is a lot of rain or water because they get dehydrated very easily and need water and mud to wallow around in. The water buffalo population in the world is about 172 million, with 96 percent of them in Asia.

Water buffalo are called “carabao” in the Philippines and are regarded as the national animal there. In India their milk is a major source of protein. In Southeast Asia they plow rice fields. One Thai farmer said, "they're the backbone of the nation and have been very important to our way of life.”Described as the “living tractor of the East,” they have been introduced to Europe, Africa, the Americas, Australia, Japan, and Hawaii. There are 74 breeds of domestic water buffalo.

The water buffalo or domestic Asian water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) is a large bovid found on the Indian subcontinent to Vietnam and Peninsular Malaysia, in Sri Lanka, in Luzon Island in the Philippines, and in Borneo. The wild water buffalo (Bubalus arnee) native to Southeast Asia is considered a different species but most likely represents the ancestor of the domestic water buffalo. [Source: Wikipedia +]

There are two types of water buffalo—each considered a subspecies—are based on morphological and behavioural criteria: 1) the river buffalo of the Indian subcontinent and further west to the Balkans and Italy; and 2) 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 domesticated about 4,000 years ago, while the river type may have originated from India and was domesticated about 5,000 years ago.

Wild Water Buffalo

Wild water buffalo are endangered and live only in a small number of protected areas stretching across India, Nepal, and Bhutan, and a wildlife reserve in Thailand. And populations are likely to diminish as they are interbred with domesticated water buffalo. [Source: National Geographic]

The wild Asian buffalo originally ranged from eastern Nepal and India, east to Vietnam, and south to Malaysia. By 1963, it had been substantially reduced numerically and eliminated from the greater part of its former range. At that time it was thought to be restricted to three zones: the Brahmaputra Valley in Assam, India, the lower reaches of the Godavari River at the confluence of the borders of the states of Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh in India, and the Saptkosi River, Nepal, close to the border with India. As of 1990, remnant populations were thought to occur in Assam and Orissa in India, in Nepal, and in two sanctuaries in Thailand. [Source: Animalinfo.org]

Thailand's wild Asian buffalo is the largest water buffalo in the world. Wild buffalo have been observed changing tigers and Asian elephants that have backed off.In Africa similar behavior has been observed with Cape buffalo and lions and African elephants.

Animalinfo.org References: Burnie & Wilson 2001, Burton & Pearson 1987, Choudhury 1994, Curry-Lindahl 1972, Dahmer 2004, Gee 1964, Hedges 1998, Humphrey & Bain 1990, IUCN 1967, IUCN 1994, IUCN 1996, IUCN 2000, IUCN 2003a, IUCN 2004, Macdonald 1984, Nowak 1999, Nowak & Paradiso 1983, Oryx 1967, Oryx 1976b, Oryx 1989c, Univ. of Alaska 2000, WCMC 2003.

Wild Water Buffalo Characteristics and Behavior

wild water buffalo

The wild Asian buffalo weighs 800 - 1200 kilograms (1800 - 2600 pounds). It is a massive, powerful animal, with the widest horn span of any bovid - more than two meters (6.5 feet) m).

Size The wild Asian buffalo has a length of 2.4 - 3 meters (7.8 - 9.8 feet). Age to Maturity: Puberty is reached at about 18 months. Gestation Period: 300 - 340 days, Birth Rate: Usually 1 calf per birth. The birth interval is usually about 2 years. Early Development: Weaning occurs after 6 - 9 months. Maximum Age: At least 25 years in the wild, 29 years in captivity. Food: Grass, Leaves, Aquatic plants; Predators: Human, Wild cats, Crocodile

The wild Asian buffalo is very dependent on the availability of water. Historically, its preferred habitats were low-lying alluvial grasslands and their surroundings. Riparian forests and woodlands were also utilized. The wild Asian buffalo eats grass and leafy aquatic vegetation. It is mainly a grazer, feeding in the morning and evenings and lying up in dense cover or submerging in wallows during midday. During the midday heat, the wild Asian buffalo frequently wallows in water or muddy pools, sometimes almost completely submerged, with only its nostrils showing. In addition to keeping it cool, wallowing helps to remove skin parasites, biting flies, and other pests. Where there is substantial human disturbance, the wild Asian buffalo is mainly nocturnal. [Source: Animalinfo.org ++]

A herd of female wild Asian buffaloes with young is led by a dominant matriarch and often accompanied by a single adult bull. Other males live solitarily or form bachelor herds of about 10. Young males spar with each other to assert dominance but avoid serious fighting. They mix with females at mating time. (Burnie & Wilson 2001, WCMC 2003 ++)

Endangered Wild Water Buffalo Behavior

The wild Asian buffalo originally ranged from eastern Nepal and India, east to Vietnam, and south to Malaysia. By 1963, it had been substantially reduced numerically and eliminated from the greater part of its former range. Currently, the total world population of wild Asian buffalo is almost certainly less than 4,000 animals and may well be less than 200 animals. It is even possible that no purebred wild Asian buffalo remain. Population estimates are hampered by the difficulty in distinguishing wild buffalo from domestic, feral and hybrid buffalo. In India, wild buffalo are now largely restricted to Assam and Madhya Pradesh, although most, if not all, are believed to have interbred with domestic and/or feral buffalo. An unknown number of buffalo, believed to include truly wild individuals, occurs in Bhutan’s Royal Manas National Park. Kosi Tappu Wildlife Reserve contains the only sub-population in Nepal. In Thailand, 40 – 50 wild buffalo are reported to occur in the Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary; this is the only sub-population remaining in Thailand. [Source: Animalinfo.org ++]

The most important threats to wild Asian buffalo are: interbreeding with feral and domestic buffalo, habitat loss/degradation, and hunting. Diseases and parasites (transmitted by domestic livestock) and competition for food and water between wild buffalo and domestic stock are also serious threats. ++

Countries Where the Wild Asian Buffalo Is Currently Found: 2004: Occurs in Bhutan, India, Nepal and Thailand. (IUCN 2004), Population Estimates (figures given are for wild populations only): 1) World:1966: Less than 2000 (IUCN 1967). 1980s: 1000 - 1500 (WCMC 2003). 1990: Less than 2000 (Humphrey & Bain 1990). 1998: Very unlikely to be more than 4000, is probably fewer than 1000, and is quite possibly fewer than 200 (Hedges 1998). 2004: Less than 4000; may be less than 200; indeed it is possible that no purebred wild Asian buffalo remain (IUCN 2004). 2) India: 1966: Under 2000 (Peninsular India: 400 - 500; Assam: 1425) (IUCN 1967); 1989: 1000 (Madhya Pradesh and Assam) (Oryx 1989c); 1994: The bulk if India's population totals perhaps 3300 - 3500 (90 percent in Assam) (Choudhury 1994). 3) Nepal: 1966: 100 (IUCN 1967); 1976: 40 (Oryx 1976b). Status and Trends: IUCN Status: 1960s - 1970s: Vulnerable; 1980s - 1994: Endangered; 1996 - 2004: Endangered (Criteria: A2e, C1) (Population Trend: Decreasing) (IUCN 2004) ++

Range of Wild Water Buffalo

wild water buffalo

During the Pleistocene epoch the genus Bubalus was widely distributed throughout Europe and southern Asia and contained forms conspecific with B. arnee. When the climate became drier the genus was restricted to the Indian subcontinent, mainland South-East Asia, and some of the South-East Asian islands. In historical times B. arnee ranged across South and South-East Asia, occurring from Mesopotamia to Indochina (Epstein 1971; Mason 1974; Cockrill 1984). [Source: iucnredlist.org]

Remnant populations of Wild Water Buffalo are thought to occur at single sites in each of southern Nepal, southern Bhutan, western Thailand, eastern Cambodia, and northern Myanmar, and at several sites in India: in the Bastar region of Madhya Pradesh, in Assam, in Arunachal Pradesh, and possibly in Meghalaya, Orissa and Maharashtra. Wild Water Buffalo is believed to be extinct in Bangladesh, Peninsular Malaysia, and on the islands of Sumatra, Java, and Borneo. The domestic form (considered by IUCN as B. bubalis) occurs as feral and domesticated populations worldwide (Grubb 2005).

The situation in Indochina is less certain. Lao PDR, Cambodia, and Viet Nam were not included within the range of Wild Water Buffalo given in Corbet and Hill (1992). Free-living buffalo of unknown pedigree occur throughout the region (e.g. Sayer 1983; Laurie et al. 1989; Salter et al. 1990; S. Hedges pers. comm. 2008) but Wild Water Buffalo is probably extinct in Viet Nam and almost certainly in Lao PDR (Groves 1996; Grubb 2005; Duckworth et al. 1999; Tordoff et al. 2005; R. J. Timmins pers. comm. 2008).

The origin and current genetic status of the herds of apparently wild buffaloes in Sri Lanka is uncertain but it is thought unlikely that any true wild buffaloes remain there today. Corbet and Hill (1992) included Sri Lanka within the historical range of wild buffalo, although Ellerman and Morrison-Scott (1951), Gee (1964), and Maia (1970) thought that the Sri Lankan buffaloes were descended from introduced domestic stock. Certain ancient texts seem to support this view (Ashby and Santiapillai 1983). The fact that no buffaloes occur south of the Godavari river in India has also been taken to suggest that Sri Lanka possesses only feral buffaloes descended from introduced animals. However, Deraniyagala (1953), considered that the occurrence of fossil buffalo teeth in the gem sands of the Ratnapura area disproved this view, although it is not clear how old these buffalo teeth are (and Gaur remains found at similar depths in the same area were less than 1,000 years old). Moreover, morphometrics suggest that there was an ancestral population of animals on that island closer to Wild Water Buffalo than to Domestic Water Buffalo (Groves and Jayantha Jayawardene unpublished). Nevertheless, even if the Water Buffalo is indigenous to Sri Lanka the question of whether the free-living herds found there today should be treated as wild B. arnee still arises. In the nineteenth-century, free-ranging herds were common over much of the island’s dry low country but they were nearly eliminated by an outbreak of rinderpest at the end of the century, and for a time their survival was in doubt (Phillips 1935). Phillips reported that small populations might have survived in the hill country but the subsequent intensification of agriculture probably led to their demise (Ashby and Santiapillai 1983). After the rinderpest outbreak buffalo recolonized much of the dry zone but most of them had apparently interbred with domestic stock and in 1953 Deraniyagala wrote ‘[the] relatively purest herds are restricted to Yala Game Sanctuary, but much vigilance will be necessary if this remnant is to be kept free from domestic animals which are now encroaching upon this once inaccessible area’. Woodford (1979) also suggested that the genetic integrity of the wild form has already been lost in Ruhuna. To conclude, even if it is assumed that Wild Water Buffalo once occurred on Sri Lanka it seems unlikely that they survived the rinderpest outbreak and the subsequent genetic swamping by feral and domestic buffalo: consequently all free-living buffalo populations on Sri Lanka almost certainly contain genetic input from domestic or feral stock.

Neither Java nor Sumatra are included within the original range of wild Bubalus arnee as presented in many accounts. Nevertheless Stremme (1911) thought that the occurrence of the fossil B. palaeokerabau in Java made it probable that the buffaloes there belonged to the original fauna of the island (as Cuvier believed). Merkens (1927) also doubted, on historical grounds, the domestic origin of all free-living buffaloes on the island as did Mason (1974) who stated that domestic buffalo were present on Sumatra and Java long before the Hindus arrived almost 2,000 years ago. Moreover Van der Maarel (1932) provisionally regarded the fossil specimens which he obtained from Java (and indeed B. palaeokerabau) as specifically indistinct from modern buffaloes, pointing to a Pleistocene presence of the species on the island (cf. Medway 1972). Corbet and Hill (1992) also thought it probable that wild buffaloes occur on Java and Sumatra. Despite the doubts raised by Van der Maarel and Dammerman there is in fact little doubt that all the apparently wild buffaloes now living on Java and Sumatra are descended from domestic animals, or from Wild Water Buffaloes that have interbred with domestic and/or feral buffaloes (S. Hedges pers. comm. 2008).

wild water buffalo

Opinion is divided over whether to include Borneo within the historic range of the species. Corbet and Hill (1992) did not list it, and neither Mason (1974) nor Payne et al. (1985) considered it likely that Water Buffalo was part of the indigenous fauna. Lydekker (1898), by contrast, described the small buffalo of Sarawak as a separate subspecies (B. b. hosei), although Mason (1974) thought that Lydekker was probably describing the feral animals which were common there. Cockrill (1968) suggested that traders from the Hindu empire in Sumatra may have introduced the buffalo in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and he did not think that there was any convincing evidence that would suggest that it was an indigenous species. Nevertheless, animal remains from the Niah caves indicate a Stone Age presence of buffalo in Sarawak (Harrisson 1961). Van Strien (1986) also considered it probable that Bubalus bubalis was part of the original fauna of the island and gave north-west Borneo as its current distribution. Harrisson, however, thought that the wild form was extinct. Feral (and semi-feral) buffaloes were formerly numerous throughout Borneo but the current status of the island’s feral population is poorly known. What does seem certain, however, is that even if the species is indigenous to the island (as seems to be the case) no true wild B. arnee occur there today since they would have been genetically swamped by the numerous feral animals some of which were descended from buffaloes introduced from outside Borneo (S. Hedges pers. comm. 2008).

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: National Geographic, Natural History magazine, Smithsonian magazine, Wikipedia, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, Top Secret Animal Attack Files website, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, The Economist, BBC, and various books and other publications.

Last updated July 2022

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