Water Buffalo

The water buffalo found in the northern part of Australia are impressive and fascinating, but they are not indigenous—and they are, in fact, something of a menace. Introduced into Australia in the 1800s as work animals and as a way to supply milk and meat to settlers in remote, northern settlements, these heat-tolerant mammals from Asia went feral when settlements failed or were abandoned. The now-wild buffalo multiplied to a point where they began to present serious problems.

First, they trashed the local ecology. They trampled shorelines, destroyed bird-breeding areas, and generally demolished delicate ecosystems. Second big problem is that they carry diseases that both indigenous animals and domestic cattle could catch. So they aren’t popular.

On top of that, they can be dangerous. In Crocodile Dundee, Paul Hogan’s character was able to hypnotize a massive buffalo that blocked his path, but this is not how they normally react to humans. While they might run away, they might not. They can weigh up to 3/4 of a ton, and their horns can measure ten feet from tip to tip—so if they decide to attack, you’re in trouble. And even if they just step out in front of your car as you’re driving down the road, you’re not going to survive slamming into a 1,500-pound wall of muscle.

Efforts to reduce the number of feral water buffalo in the Top End have been successful, but the Australian Park Service must remain vigilant, so the numbers don’t rebound. However, though numbers are reduced, you can still see an occasional water buffalo in the wilder regions of Australia’s north.

water buffalo


Filed under Australia, Book, History, Nature, Science, Travel

17 responses to “Water Buffalo

  1. I spoke to an aussie who had worked on cattle stations in Cape York for many years and he told me: “I respect the crocs yeah…but I’m much more careful with the buffalos and bulls – they’re bloody crazy!”

    • luigi

      Well, I have to say that I don’t have any experience with water buffaloes that have gone back to the wild state. I think they could be very dangerous if they don’t like you.
      BUT: I am a farmer with many domestic water buffaloes (here in italy their milk is very prized for the production of Mozzarella cheese). And I can say that they are extremely intelligent, as dogs or even more: they reply to their name since the first days of life, and are in continuous attempt to communicate with umans; they are fond of our speaking and try to speak with us (in fact I can distinguish a few “words”). And they never harmed me since I purchased them 12 yers ago. Male buffaloes may be very dangerous, but some years ago I stopped one who runned to me, by simply calling his name! The female ones adopted me as a son (true!), and the babies are as lovely as wombats.
      One “last bullet” I could suggest if you are in front of an unfair water buffalo, is to stand as high as you can (for them “high” means “big”) and open your arms to simulate horns. Or better, run: they run very fast, but only for short distances.
      Yes, I’m partial with them!

      • luigi

        One thing I forgotten to say: they do what I ask them to without any constriction. And I’m not joking here: I purchased them near Rome and they were accustomed to hear italian language; while I never speak italian to them, but nevertheless they understand what I say

      • Buon giorno, Luigi.
        I have been to Italy a number of times, and while I didn’t know that your buffalo were so friendly, I did know that they produced some very fine cheeses. Thanks for the insight into what they can be like if they don’t grow up wild. I suspect it’s true of many creatures — they don’t behave well if no one teaches them manners or shows them kindness.

        Where in Italy is your farm?

        • luigi

          Buon giorno, Cynthia.
          My farm is in the north of Italy, near Milano.
          This could sound a little bit strange for many here, who think that water buffaloes are only bred in the southern regions. However they seem to feel good here. Australia is my dreamland, and, as I’ve been asked for a cheese I make from an australian distributor, maybe it’ll come true?

          • Northern Italy is lovely. Interestingly, I had a conversation recently with someone who is raising buffaloes in the US, and he said that the ones in Italy have been habituated to humans for long enough that they are not dangerous (except the males during mating season), but the buffaloes in the US are closer to the wild ones, and one must be very careful. So it sounds like you’re in the right place for raising buffaloes!

    • George

      The only thing you have to worry about if you see a Buff in the bush is if you can run faster than your mate. If not pinch his joggers.

  2. I’m doing a project at school on water buffaloes and think they look very cute. I have a picture of one on my desktop! But now I know not to go up and hug one if I ever see any.

  3. clint

    i beg to differ on what the so called experts have to say about the buffalo.most of the damage blamed on the buff are from pigs and yes they carry some dieseases but also so do the pigs.In most places they did more good than harm by keeping waterways open and preventing it blocking up with weeds.i worked with buffalo for 25 years and in all that time i only ever got hit once.Yes they are dangerous but so is you household cat when scared.Treat them with respect and dont crowd them and all will be fine

  4. While it is true that a house cat can be “dangerous” when scared, it doesn’t weigh 3/4 of a ton, so is less likely to cause any serious damage. Plus, if you’re driving a car and a cat steps out in front of you, the driver is not going to be killed.

    But I do agree that treating them with respect and not crowding them is wise — but I think that was pretty clearly established in the post, though in different words.

    If you are working with buffalo, I wonder if you’re working with domestic, rather than feral, buffalo. I know the raising of buffalo for meat has become quite popular in Australia, as elsewhere.

    As for pigs carrying disease, as well as the buffalo — this is a certainty. It is now thought that the diseases introduced to the Americas — the diseases that had such a horrible effect on indigenous peoples — were not carried by the humans who came, but rather by the pigs, horses, and cattle that they brought with them. This may be especially true in South and Central America, where there were almost no reliable food animals, and where introduced species were so rapidly accepted into the diet (though pigs were popular everywhere they went — if you’re interested, there is a history of pigs on my other blog: http://worldsfare.wordpress.com/2008/03/24/this-little-piggy-went-to-market/ ).

  5. Pingback: Water Buffalo Report | Katec1

  6. Unpredictable, stupid, and have no respect for humans nor animals of another kind.

  7. I’d love to hunt them. One of those would make a lot of hamburger.

    • Yep — they would make a lot of hamburger. As noted, they were originally brought to Australia for food. While I never ate buffalo in Australia, I’ve eaten it a lot of other places (especially Egypt), and it’s mighty tasty.

  8. Liz Schultz

    I don’t know where the comment “Occasional buffalo” came from. We are near the flood plains near Ramingining and there are herds of hundreds here

    • Ramingining is pretty remote from anything visitors to Australia are likely to see. That said, the report I read at the time I posted this said herds had been significantly reduced. But then, the post is from six years ago. They may have rebounded.

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