Why is the Wild Water Buffalo Endangered?
The wild water buffalo (Bubalus arnee) is considered an endangered animal. The current estimates of the remaining world population of this bovine species is under 4,000 with less than 2,500 mature specimens; there has been a population reduction of at least 50 percent over the past three generations. Each generation is estimated to be around 8 to 10 years.
The severity of threats such as hybridization have created a precarious status for the wild water buffalo. For instance, the domesticated water buffalo has interbred with the wild one, adding to the likelihood of its extinction.
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Where can you find wild water buffaloes?
The wild water buffalo was once distributed throughout Europe and southern Asia; as the climate becomes drier, the species has been restricted to the Indian subcontinent. Now with a decline in their habitat due to agriculture and human infrastructures, the appearance of native species and parasites and climate change, the wild water buffalo is an endangered species.
Currently, the wild water buffalo's range is limited to:
- Southern Nepal
- Southern Bhutan
- Western Thailand
- Eastern Cambodia
- Northern Myanmar
The IUCN reported a decline of 80% in the population of wild water buffaloes in central India between the 1960s and 1990s. Parts of India where they are still found nowadays include:
- Madhya Pradesh
- Arunachal Pradesh
Here you can learn more about the habitat of the wild water buffalo, and here you can discover the differences between buffaloes, water buffaloes and bison.
Is the wild water buffalo becoming extinct?
The wild water buffalo is extinct in Bangladesh, Peninsular Malaysia, and the Sumatran Islands as well as Java and Borneo. It has almost certainly become extinct in Vietnam and Laos.
Sri Lanka is also believed to be steeply declining in numbers when it comes to herds of wild water buffaloes, and no wild water buffaloes occur south of the Godavari river in India now.
In all these countries, however, the domestic water buffalo is doing well, as there are more than 130 million specimens alive.
Intensification of agriculture, domestication and hunting
One of the reasons why the wild water buffalo is endangered is the intensive cultivation of fields, agricultural practices and domestication of animals by humans. Thus, the genetic integrity of the wild water buffalo was threatened by the onset of the interbreeding that took place as a result of the intensification of agricultural practices.
Wild water buffaloes are also a victim of rampant illegal animal trade. Trophies from this beautiful wild species are highly prized, especially trophy horns taken by Cambodian and Vietnamese hunters according to the IUCN.
Has the wild water buffalo already disappeared?
One of the reasons behind the wild water buffalo being endangered is hybridization. The total world population of the wild water buffalo has been estimated by the IUCN to be less than 3,500 individuals occupying less than 20,000 square kilometers of the planet.
However, it is difficult to know for sure whether they are really wild water buffaloes or if they have crossbred with domestic water buffaloes, perhaps gone feral. In countries like Cambodia, domesticated herds roam freely in the wild.
It becomes necessary to find a way to ascertain if the wild water buffalo even survives to date. The picture is further complicated by the difficulty of distinguishing between free-ranging domestic, wild and hybrid water buffaloes.
Why is the wild water buffalo's habitat disappearing?
Besides interbreeding, another reason why the wild water buffalo is endangered are hunting and habitat loss. Wild water buffaloes are dependent on the availability of water; their preferred habitats are low-lying grasslands and surroundings with riparian forests and woodlands.
But with the decline in their natural habitat as forests fall to cultivation and commercialization and the increase in the number of poachers and hunters, the wild water buffalo is threatened too.
Most of the former lowland habitat of the species have been lost to agriculture and what still exists is highly fragmented. In countries like Cambodia, vast tracts are still there where the species could be reintroduced. But for the most part, their natural habitat is on the decline.
Diseases, epidemics and parasites
Besides hunting, habitat loss and degradation, as well as interbreeding, another threat to the survival of the wild water buffalo are diseases and parasites transmitted by domestic breeds. Their health is weakened, and there is also competition for food and water.
With the close overlap of the domestic water buffalo and the wild water buffalo, disease epidemics spread from the domestic livestock pose a massive threat. A high density of the domesticated breed and the small, localized type of wild water buffalo populations pose an even graver threat.
With conservation efforts in South Asia on the rise, hopefully, the wild water buffalo's situation may change.
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