Sri Lanka is home to a handful of charismatic big game, of which the Asiatic Wild Water Buffalo can be counted in as one of them.
Large, aggressive and feisty these brutish bovine have been feared by jungle folk for generations.
Found in most parts of the island, especially the dry zone national park of Yala, Kumana and Wilpattu, these giant bovine dominate the landscape with their giant sweeping horns and their signature death stare they give for any safari jeep or person who gets too close to their personal space.
For quite some time experts believed this species (Bubalis arnee) was not a native of the island but rather a feral animal from the Asian mainland. But recent DNA studies suggests that there was indeed an indigenous sub species which existed on the island.
According to eminent conservation Biologist, Professor Mayuri Wijesinghe from the University of Colombo, revealed that the island historically used to contain two distinct species of wild water buffalo. Namely the Asian Wild Water Buffalo which denotes the scientific name Bubalis arnee, and the Swamp Buffalo which denotes the scientific name Bubalis bubalis carabanensis. The latter is most likely an introduced variant via domestic stock from mainland Asia.
In the wild the primary threat to these bovines is habitat loss, and human encroachment. From a predatory point of view, it is not uncommon for poachers to harvest the wild buffalo meat which is sold under the guide of Sambhur meat and Spotted Deer Meat which is highly sought after in the illegal bush meat market.
Leopards are known to often prey on the young calves, with many amazing observations made in parks such as Yala and Kumana where they brave the deadly horns of adults to snatch the unaware calves right from the center of these herds. Usually escaping onto the safety of the trees, and yet there have been several accounts of unlucky felines being gored to death in their suicidal attempts in snatching a calf.
Despite the genetics, these impressive animals are truly a highlight of any safari to Sri Lanka and are as much part of the wilderness landscape as with the Leopard, Sloth Bear or Elephant.
Hence next time one is on safari in the island, lookout for these burly giants who might give you a firm death stare.