|The Water Buffalo: New Prospects For An Underutilized Animal (1984) |
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While the buffalo is remarkably versatile, it has less physiological adaptation to extremes of heat and cold than the various breeds of cattle. Body temperatures of buffaloes are actually lower than those of cattle, but buffalo skin is usually black and heat absorbent and only sparsely protected by hair. Also, buffalo skin has one-sixth the density of sweat glands that cattle skin has, so buffaloes dissipate heat poorly by sweating. If worked or driven excessively in the hot sun, a buffalo's body temperature, pulse rate, respiration rate, and general discomfort increase more quickly than those of cattle(Failure to appreciate this has caused many buffalo deaths in northern Australia when the animals were herded long distances through the heat of the day as if they were cattle).. This is particularly true of young calves and pregnant females. During one trial in Egypt 2 hours' exposure to sun caused temperatures of buffalo to rise 1.3°C, whereas temperatures of cattle rose only 0.2-0.3°C.
Buffaloes prefer to cool off in a wallow rather than seek shade. They may wallow for up to 5 hours a day when temperatures and humidity are high. Immersed in water or mud, chewing with half-closed eyes, buffaloes are a picture of bliss.
In shade or in a wallow buffaloes cool off quickly, perhaps because a black skin rich in blood vessels conducts and radiates heat efficiently (Tests at the University of Florida have shown that buffaloes in the shade cool off more quickly than cattle. -Robey, 1976). Nonetheless, wallowing is not essential. Experience in Australia, Trinidad, Florida, Malaysia, and elsewhere has shown that buffaloes grow normally without wallowing as long as adequate shade is available.
Although generally associated with the humid tropics, buffaloes, as already noted, have been reared for centuries in temperate countries such as Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and in the Azerbaijan and Georgian republics of the USSR. In 1807 Napoleon brought Italian buffaloes to the Landes region of southwest France and released them near Mont-deMarsan. They became feral and multiplied prodigiously in the woods and dunes of the littoral, but unfortunately the local peasants found them easy targets, and with the fall of Napoleon the whole herd was killed for meat(In the twelfth century Benedictine monks introduced buffaloes from their possessions in the Orient to work the lands of their abbey at Auge in northeastern France. In the thirteenth century a herd was introduced to England by the Earl of Cornwall, the brother of Henry III. Nothing is known about how well either herd survived). Buffaloes are also maintained on the high, snowy plateaus of Turkey as well as in Afghanistan and the northern mountains of Pakistan.
The buffalo has greater tolerance of cold weather than is commonly supposed. The current range of the buffalo extends as far north as 45° latitude in Romania and the sizable herds in Italy and the Soviet Union range over 40° N latitude(Philadelphia and Peking are at comparable latitudes. In the Southern Hemisphere the 40° line of latitude easily encompasses Cape Town, Buenos Aires, Melbourne, and most of New Zealand's North Island). Cold winds and rapid drops in temperatures, however, appear to have caused illness, pneumonia, and sometimes death. Most of the animals in Europe are of the Mediterranean breed, but other River-type buffaloes (mainly Murrahs from India) have been introduced to Bulgaria and the Soviet Union, which indicates that River breeds, at least, have some cold tolerance.
Although water buffaloes are generally reared at low elevations, a herd of Swamp buffaloes is thriving at Kandep in Papua New Guinea, 2,500 m above sea level. And in Nepal, River buffaloes are routinely found at or above 2,800 m altitude.
Water buffaloes are well adapted to swamps and to areas subject to flooding. They are at home in the marshes of southern Iraq and of the Amazon, the tidal plains near Darwin, Australia, the Pontine Marshes in south-central Italy, the Orinoco Basin of Venezuela, and other areas.
In the Amazon, buffaloes (Mediterranean and Swamp breeds) are demonstrating their exceptional adaptability to flood areas. Buffalo productivity outstrips that of cattle, with males reaching 400 kg in 30 months on a diet of native grasses( Information supplied by C. Nascimento).
The advantage of water buffaloes over Holstein, Brown Swiss, and Criollo cattle was demonstrated in a test at Delta Amacuro, Venezuela, when the cattle developed serious foot rot In the wet conditions of the Orinoco Delta and had to be withdrawn from the test. The area of Venezuela is flooded 6 months of the year and creates constant problems for cattle, yet the buffalo seems to adapt well(*Information supplied by A. Ferrer).
High humidities seem to affect buffaloes less than cattle. In fact, if shade or wallows are available, buffaloes may be superior to cattle in humid areas.
In southern Brazil, trials comparing buffalo and cattle on subtropical riverine plains have favored the buffalo also. This work is being carried out on native pastures, mostly in the State of Sao Paulo.
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