There are various species of buffalo worldwide, such as the savannas of Africa and the challenging environments of Asia. Their adaptability to different habitats is impressive; each species exhibits unique behaviors, diets, and characteristics.
Through this article, we will examine these features to offer a comprehensive understanding of the lives of buffalos. We’ll also answer if bison are buffaloes. Read on to learn more.
Related Read: Buffalo Facts.
Syncerus is the genus name of the African buffalo. The species under this genus is Syncerus caffer, which is divided further into various subspecies.
The African savannah is home to the impressive Cape Buffalo, easily distinguishable from other subspecies due to its dark brown to almost black coat. These herbivores live in sub-Saharan Africa's grasslands, swamps, forests, and national parks.
Males weigh between 1,102 to 2,204 pounds, and females weigh 937 to 1,323 pounds. Their strength, endurance, and size make them the largest subspecies of the African Buffalo.
Unfortunately, they face threats from lions and large crocodiles, putting young or sick Cape Buffaloes at an even greater risk. Despite these challenges, they stick together and will try to rescue one of their own when attacked.
The African Dwarf Buffalo, also called the Forest Buffalo, lives in the rainforests of Central and West Africa1. This species stands at a shoulder height of about 3.6 feet and has a weight range of 551 to 705 pounds, smaller than its counterparts.
This is a unique type of buffalo with a reddish-brown coat that helps it blend in with its dense forest habitat. It can survive in swamps, grasslands, and mountainous regions with enough water and vegetation.
The Forest Buffalo's diet primarily consists of grasses, leaves, and bark, but it can also feed on small animals and insects, which sets it apart from other buffalo species.
Despite being smaller than other buffalo species, the Forest Buffalo can be dangerous when cornered or wounded. They face several predators, such as leopards, lions, crocodiles, and hyenas. However, its biggest threats are habitat loss and hunting.
The Sudan Buffalo is native to forests and wet savannas in West Africa. Although similar in appearance to other buffalo species, it has a comparatively smaller size and lighter coloration. Notably, it tends to live in smaller herds and prefers habitats close to water.
The Nile Buffalo lives in marshy habitats in Central Africa. It distinguishes itself with lighter-colored fur and slightly longer horns than other subspecies.
Bubalus is another extant genus of the Bovidae family, which contains the Asian water buffalo. Here are the five species and some subspecies of this type of buffalo:
The Wild Water Buffalo lives in Southeast Asia's wet grasslands and tropical and subtropical forests. It is renowned for its strength, size, and aquatic abilities. Adult males are enormous, weighing approximately 2,645 pounds.
This type of buffalo lives in aquatic and terrestrial environments, often inhabiting wetlands. They also possess incredible swimming abilities.
Moreover, their most recognizable feature is their impressive, curled horns, reaching up to two meters long.
These water buffaloes feed mainly on grasses, herbs, and aquatic plants, helping shape the landscape by assisting in seed dispersal.
The Domestic Water Buffalo showcases impressive versatility and resilience3.
Its relationship with human civilization dates back over 5,000 years, originating from various landscapes in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and China. Seventeen of the 74 buffalo breeds in the world are in India.
This animal is an incredible specimen with a robust, barrel-shaped body and a huge head. Their skin color is an intriguing range of shades, from slate blue to grey.
However, their most striking feature is their long, curved, and ridged horns that reach 6.6 feet long. Despite their size, domestic breeds of buffalo are gentle and intelligent.
The Nili-Ravi and the Mediterranean Italian are two notable breeds of domestic water buffalo. Known for being a dairy breed, the Nili-Ravi buffaloes hail from Punjab in Pakistan and India.
Meanwhile, the Mediterranean Italian breed, distinguished by its lightly colored coat and compact body, is revered in Italy for the rich quality of milk it produces, which is vital in traditional mozzarella cheese preparation.
The Carabaoes or swamp buffaloes are a subspecies of the water buffalo native to the Philippines2. Farmers rely on carabaos, which have become indispensable to the country’s agricultural industry and cultural heritage.
Male carabaos weigh between 1764 to 2,204 pounds, and females weigh 1,323 to 1,764 pounds. They possess great strength and endurance, making them ideal for plowing fields and transporting heavy loads.
Additionally, their crescent-shaped horns add aesthetic appeal and protect them against predators.
Carabaos can also thrive in wetland environments like rivers, marshes, and swamps. They often roll around in mud holes to cool off and keep insects away.
Moreover, they mainly feed on grass and other vegetation, efficiently digesting coarse plant matter that other ruminants cannot handle.
However, carabaos face the effects of agricultural mechanization, loss of habitat, and crossbreeding with other buffalo species.
The River Buffalo is native to Southeast Asia and the Indian Subcontinent. Although they live in Europe, Australia, and North and South America, they thrive in wet environments and often hang around rivers, river valleys, marshes, and swamps.
These animals have a heavy front end and a noticeable shoulder hump, allowing them to navigate through thick mud and marshland. River Buffaloes are excellent swimmers, spending long hours underwater to escape heat and insects.
Despite their size, with males weighing 1,764 to 2,645 pounds, these buffaloes are usually gentle creatures.
Farmers value them for their contributions to agriculture and dairy, as well as for their meat. Their durability and strength make them perfect for heavy-duty work in rice fields.
The Tamaraw is a small, solitary buffalo species endemic to the island of Mindoro in the Philippines. It stands about 3.3 feet tall at the shoulder and weighs around 660 pounds, making it one of the smallest buffalo species.
Sporting a dark gray to slate-colored coat, its most unique feature is the V-shaped, backward-curving horns.
This type of buffalo favors dense, hilly forests as habitats. Unlike other buffalo species that live in large herds, the Tamaraw is predominantly solitary unless it's a mother caring for her calf.
Regrettably, it's critically endangered, with hunting and habitat loss significantly reducing its population.
The Lowland Anoa is a small buffalo species, standing only about 2.5 feet tall at the shoulder and weighing up to 300 pounds. Endemic to the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, these creatures possess a dark brown coat with long, thin, straight horns.
They primarily live in lowland rainforests and wetlands, are notably solitary, and, despite their small size, have a reputation for their fierce protective behavior.
The Mountain Anoa or Quarle's anoa is another small type of buffalo found only in Indonesia's mountainous regions of Sulawesi Island. Typically, it stands only about 2.5 feet tall and weighs approximately 150-300 pounds.
This species features a woolly dark brown or black coat and straight, sharp horns, and, unlike many buffalo species, it thrives in mountainous forests at higher altitudes, leading a relatively solitary life.
American "buffalos," accurately referred to as American bison, belong to a different subtribe within the family Bovidae. Often misnamed as buffalos, these creatures fall under the Bovina subtribe, a distinct classification from the Bubalina subtribe found in Africa and Asia.
This misnomer dates back to when early settlers of North America first encountered these animals and noted their similarity to known buffalo species.
Bison are the largest land mammal in North America, weighing up to 2,000 pounds. They have a shaggy, dark brown winter coat and a lighter-weight, lighter brown summer coat. They're recognized by their large, muscular hump over their shoulders and their heavy, fur-covered heads with small, curving horns.
Conversely, buffalos sport larger horns, lack the hefty shoulder hump, and display a skin coat that varies from light to dark grey.
Related Read: Bison Facts.
Melletti, M., Penteriani, V., & Boitani, L. (2006). Habitat preferences of the secretive forest buffalo (Syncerus caffer nanus) in Central Africa. Journal of Zoology, 271(2), 178–186.
Cai, L., Wiener, G., & Jianlin, H. (2007). The Carabao (Bubalus bubalis): production and research. Tropical Animal Health and Production, 39(7), 467-483.
Cockrill, W. R. (1981). The water buffalo: a review. British Veterinary Journal, 137(1), 8-16.