Water Buffalo Feral - Destroys Wetlands

Australian water buffaloes are large swamp and floodplain dwelling hooved and horned plant-eating mammals called bovid herbivores. These introduced animals have adapted so well to the Australian habitat that they are causing considerable damage to sensitive native Australian fauna and flora.

Description of Water Buffalo Types of Buffaloes in Australia

Feral water buffaloes are formidable animals. They can grow up to 2 meters in height, 3 meters in length and weigh up to 1,200 kilograms. The female is about two thirds the size of the male. They have very short black or dark grey fur and their skin is black. The water buffalo's hooves are wide-splayed (spread out) to provide a large surface area for their feet which prevents them from sinking in the mud and wetlands in which they move. These animals are also more sensitive to heat than most bovids because they have fewer sweat glands. Wallowing in mud helps keep them cool. It also helps cake the animal in a protective layer of mud, thereby shielding it from biting insects. Water buffaloes live in herds composed of a few animals. If threatened, they will put their heads down in an attack/defensive position and can, with a quick flick of their head, impale their victim with their hones and inflict serious damage. They live for about 25 years.

Swamp Buffalo

The Swamp Buffalo was originally imported from Indonesia. It has a shorter wider snout, a stockier build with shorter limbs and a bigger belly than the river buffalo. It has a flat forehead with prominent eyes and huge swept-back crescent-shaped horns. These horns are impressive and can measure up to 2 meters from tip to tip. It has short black or grey-black fur on black skin and a short tail which only reaches as far as its hocks (equivalent anatomically to the ankle in humans).The swamp buffalo is larger and more prevalent, in Australia, than the river buffalo. It prefers spending most its time coating itself in mud, in swamps and water holes.

River Buffalo

The River Buffalo was originally imported from India in the 1880s. It has a longer, narrower snout, longer limbs, and a smaller belly than the swamp buffalo. It has small curled horns that seem to grow out of a helmet. It likes to spend its time in clear water, usually in rivers. This breed was original imported mainly for its milk which is very high in butterfat.

Why the Water Buffalo was Brought to Australia

About 80 domesticated water buffalo were brought to the Northern Territory of Australia from Indonesia between 1825 and 1843 to provide draft animals and dairy products for early settlers living in isolated settlements there. Additional animals were also brought from India. These early settlements were unsuccessful and were abandoned in the 1850s.

How Australian Buffalo Become Feral

When the early settlements failed the domestic buffaloes were set free. The descendants of these freed animals have become feral and are now thriving in the Australian wetlands. In the 1980s it was estimated that there were more than 350,000 feral buffaloes in the Northern Territory.

Australian Water Buffalo Habitat Where the Water Buffalo Lives

Australian water buffaloes live in the tropical and subtropical wetlands and floodplains of northern Australia where there is sufficient water for them to wallow in. Wallowing is a vital part of this animal's behaviour. As it has fewer sweat glands that other bovids (hooved animals with horns), it is very sensitive to heat and wallowing in mud vital to keep itself cool. Wallowing also coats the animal's skin with mud, thereby protecting it from insect bites.

Australian Water Buffalo Diet What does the Water Buffalo Eat?

Water buffaloes are herbivores (plant-eaters). They eat aquatic plants, grass and other plant matter, including the bark off trees. During the wet season they graze on the lush aquatic grasses and grass-like wetland plants on the flood plains. Starting at dusk they feed until mid-day and then take a break to wallow in mud until about mid-afternoon when they commence grazing again until dusk. During the dry season they prefer to wallow most of the day and graze on savannah woodlands grasses during the cooler evening and night. Males eat up to 30 kilograms of food each day. The dietary habits of buffaloes are more versatile than cattle because they eat a wider variety of vegetation than cattle and also eat poorer quality feed.

Predators and Disease What Kills Water Buffaloes?

Because of their size and dangerous horns, adult buffaloes have no natural predators. Young buffaloes, however do fall prey to crocodiles and dingoes. Buffaloes also suffer from many of the same disease as cattle.

Humans are the biggest predators of the water buffalo. Because of active culling campaigns and the hunting of buffalo for sport, humans kill numerous buffaloes each year. A small number, around 3,000 annually, are also captured and exported overseas, mainly to Indonesia.

Why the Buffalo is Bad for Australia

The Australian environment has evolved in isolation from the rest of the world for millions of years and has developed plants and animals unique to its environment.

Before the introduction of buffaloes to Australia, there were no native large water dwelling animals in Australia. It has never had hooved animals of any sort, nor has it had animals that disrupt and damage aquatic environments. The largest water-dwelling native Australian animals are the platypus and the freshwater crocodile. A buffalo is over 500 times bigger and heavier than a platypus. A freshwater crocodile grows to about one-twelfth the size of a large buffalo. They cause little or no damage the the environment.

The water buffalo, on the other hand, has been become a major environmental disaster in the wetlands of the north. Its wallowing habit severely damages native flora not accustomed to being trampled and squashed and they muddy up waterways killing native fish.

A major culling operation was undertaken in the 1980s and the population of buffalo was reduced to about 80,000 animals. In 2008 the population of water buffaloes was estimated at approximately 150,000.

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