Landscape Management

They appear to be gentle giants from another time. During all these days I've watched them, I've never seen any of them being in a hurry. Graze, bath, snooze, repeat - that seems to be their daily routine. Water buffalos have obviously found the work-life-balance that we're all longing for and yet they are professionals in their job of conserving wetlands.

History and Domestication

The history of wild water buffalos goes back to the Ice Age. Nowadays, it is hard to distinguish between successors of wild and domesticated buffalos. The wild water buffalo (bubalus arnee) has been assessed for The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in 2016. Ever since then, it and has been listed as endangered species, given the following justification: "The remaining world population totals under 4,000, with an estimate of fewer than 2,500 mature individuals. An inferred population reduction of at least 50% over the last three generations (generation length estimated at 8–10 years) seems likely given the severity of the threats, especially hybridization; it is projected to continue into the future."


In contrast to that, the number of domesticated water buffalos is said to be about 150 millions worldwide. There is no common agreement where and when the domestication was initiated. It is hard to determine because the bones of wild and domesticated animals cannot be distinguished. Anyway, most sources refer to Asian regions where people used the buffalos to cultivate paddy fields  and as pack animals. 

Anatomy and Habitat

Water buffalos make quite an impressive appearance with muscular physics reaching a height of 180cm and a weight of more than 1t. Their fur is either brown or black and very dense to protect them from overheating on hot summer days. As so many other species, they have been hunted for their horns which surely contributes to their IUCN listing.


Their natural habitats are wetlands, swamplands or heavily vegetated river valleys. Besides the refreshing effect of a bath, it is usefull to get rid of insects. With climate change enforcing certain developments such as extended drought and heat periods, sweet water is expected to become a rare resource in some regions. Not only will the habitat of the water buffalos become smaller for this reason but also the risk of human overuse of rivers and lakes will get bigger. 

Conservation of Wetlands

However, there are also some good news, at least for the domesticated relatives of the wild water buffalos. The so called Green Deal of the European Union cites "improving and re-establishing biodiverse habitats [...] to restore degraded ecosystems, in particular those with the most potential to capture and store carbonas" (source: nature restoration law) as  one of their key targets. Wetlands only make up for 3% of the land area worldwide but they save up to one third of the total terrestrial carbon which is twice as much as all forests combined.


In order to prevent the wetlands from being covered by bushes or trees, an increasing amount of conservationists across Europe rely on water buffalos. Their broad hoofs enable them to walk on muddy grounds and just by walking around, they increase the structural diversity of the ground and the vegetation which has positive effects on biodiversity. Their preffered diet consists of grasses, reeds and woods which keeps the landscape open and makes it the perfect habitat for insects and birds. 

Once upon a time - Location Background

Once upon a time the area where I took the photographs had been a fen. Like so many other fens, it got drained so that the area could be used for agricultural purposes. Farmers grew strawberries and corn there. It was in the 1990ies when the nearby coal mine caused subsidences and created a body of standing water. The adjacent greenlands fell wet again, too. It was impossible to continue any farming on this soil. Local authorities bought the land, compensated the farmes and installed a nature reserve that has become a sanctuary for plants and animals, especially for endangered species that rely on open landscapes. 

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