Photo: Water buffalo

Both male and female water buffalo wear the species’ signature backward-curving horns, although the females’ horns are significantly smaller.

Photograph by Bruce Dale

Map

Map: Water buffalo range

Water Buffalo Range

Fast Facts

Type:
Mammal
Diet:
Herbivore
Average life span in captivity:
Up to 25 years
Size:
Head and body, 8 to 9 ft (2.4 to 2.7 m); Tail 2 to 3.3 ft (60 to 100 cm)
Weight:
1,500 to 2,650 lbs (700 to 1,200 kg)
Group name:
Herd
Protection status:
Endangered
Did you know?
The domesticated water buffalo is often referred to as the “living tractor of the East,” as it is relied upon for plowing and transportation in many parts of Asia.
Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man:

The water buffalo, or Asian buffalo, as it is often called, is the largest member of the Bovini tribe, which includes yak, bison, African buffalo, various species of wild cattle, and others.

Standing 5 to 6.2 feet (1.5 to 1.9 meters) tall at the shoulder, wild water buffalo are formidable mammals with sparse gray-black coats. Males carry enormous backward-curving, crescent-shaped horns stretching close to 5 feet (1.5 meters) long with deep ridges on their surface. Females are smaller in size and weight, but they also have horns, although they are proportionately smaller.

Water buffalo spend much of their day submerged in the muddy waters of Asia’s tropical and subtropical forests. Their wide-splayed hoofed feet prevent them from sinking too deeply in the mud and allow them to move about in wetlands and swamps. These marshes provide good cover and rich aquatic plants to forage on, although water buffalo actually prefer to feed in grasslands on grass and herbs.

Females normally produce calves every other year, after a gestation of 9 to 11 months. Young bulls typically remain with maternal herds, which consist of around 30 buffalo, for three years after birth. They then go on to form small all-male herds.

Water buffalo have been domesticated for more than 5,000 years. They have buttressed humanity’s survival with their meat, horns, hides, milk, butterfat, and power, plowing and transporting people and crops.

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.

Mammal Features

  • Photo: Close-up of an African lion

    Animal Conservation

    Find out what National Geographic Society is doing to save animals all over the world, and learn what you can do to help.

  • hawaiian-monk-critter-cam.jpg

    Crittercam Helps Study Rare Species

    The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the oldest species of seal on the planet. But their tenure in paradise is perilously close to its end; only about 1,100 seals remain in the wild.

  • Masai Mara Lion

    Lions Quiz

    The king of cats rules with a roar and a fierce bite. What else do you know about this top predator?

  • Photo: Lion bares his teeth

    Cause an Uproar

    Big cats are quickly disappearing. Now is the time to act. Cause an uproar to save big cats today.

Animals

Photos

  •  Picture of a Malayan tiger

    Pictures: Tiger Subspecies

    Scientists estimate only about 3,000 wild tigers are left in the entire world. Meet the subspecies and see what threats each is facing.

See more animal photos »

From the Magazine

  • Photo of the lions of the Vumbi pride.

    The Surprising Lives of Lions

    In case you missed it: See these breathtaking videos and photos from inside a wild Serengeti pride.

  • Photo: Two adult preen, Ireland

    Gannets Pictures

    Champion divers but clumsy landers, doting parents but hostile neighbors—northern gannets abound in contradictions.