Natural Histories

photograph of a Sunda Pangolin

Water Buffalo

Babbalus bubalis


A water buffalo is a large bovine that can grow to be 2.4-3m long with a shoulder height of 1.5-1.9 m. Male water buffalo tend to weigh 1,200 kg while females usually weigh 800 km and domesticated water buffalo usually only range from 250-550 kg. The face of this species is long and narrow with small ears. Both sexes of this species have large, ribbed, triangular horns with heavy set bases, which are set far apart on the head, horns of the females tend to be smaller than those of the males. This species is almost hairless but has sparse ashy-gray to black hair over its dark brown to black skin which is usually covered in mud. Swamp buffalo are ashy gray with a drooping neck and horns that sweep back and out while the river buffalo is more black with tightly curled horns. Water buffalo young are red to yellow brown in color.


Water buffalo are native to parts of Asia from Central India to southern Nepal, west to Vietnam and east to Malaysia. Some wild populations exist in India, Nepal Bhutan and Thailand while populations of domesticated and feral Asian water buffalo can be found widespread. River buffalo, a domesticated variety of water buffalo, can be found in Indochina, the Mediterranean and even parts of South and Central America. Another variety of water buffalo, the swamp buffalo, can be found in Indochina, Southeast Asia, and Australia. This species prefers tropical and subtropical forests and wet habitats such as wet grasslands, marshes and swamps.

Feeding Behavior and Diet

This species is a ruminant herbivore, consuming only vegetative matter, grazing on grasses most of the time. Water buffalo will also consume herbs, aquatic plants, leaves and agricultural crops.


Water buffalo are polygynous, meaning they have multiple breeding partners. Breeding season is variable; some populations have seasonally dependent breeding while other populations do not. Usually after the wet season, males join female groups to mate with females before they are driven from the herd. Calves are born year round, usually occurring at the beginning of the rainy season. Females produce 1-2 calves, typically having one birth every two years. Calves are nursed for 6-9 months. Female water buffalo reach sexual maturity after 1.5 years and remain in a maternal group within a larger herd. Once males reach sexual maturity, after 3 years, they leave female groups to join bachelor groups of about 10 individuals.

Months and Times of Activity

Water buffalo are both diurnal and nocturnal, grazing usually occurring in the morning and evening. During hot parts of the day they can be found in dense cover or wallowing in mud holes. This species spends much of its time wallowing in rivers and mud holes. Loose, maternal herds of about 30 individuals exist year round with a dominance hierarchy lead by an old cow (female).

Special Features, Stories, Relationships

•    Water buffalo have fewer sweat glands than other bovids and are thus more sensitive to heat. Wallowing in mud helps to cool down their body temperature due to a slower evaporation rate.
•    Water buffalo horns have the widest spread of any bovine species. They also have the longest gestation period of all bovine species of 300-340 days.
•    To read legends featuring this animal go to;
•    Children’s book featuring this animal: Water Buffalo’s Reward by Qin Yi


Roth, J. 2004. "Bubalus bubalis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed November 04, 2014 at