Introduced from eastern half of Asia into the Northern Territory early in the 19th century as a beast of burden, it quickly escaped and is now feral. As a result of its feral status it is hunted, Melville Island is a popular hunting location. Buffaloes are also found in Arnhem Land and the Top End. These slaty-grey animals are sparsely haired, their ears relatively narrow and densely haired. They have large, long, wide swept-back horns.
During the dry season, cows and bulls live apart. At the onset of the wet season, males move into the areas occupied by females. Mating extends over 8 months with a peak in March. One male may mate with several, but not all cows in the group. Gestation period is 312-334 days and in a lifetime of 20 years, a female may produce up to 12 young.
When food and water are abundant, it sleeps at night in a more or less permanent camp in wooded country, moving out at dawn to a feeding ground. Feeding ceases by mid-morning when it moves to water, first to drink and then to wallow. In mid-afternoon it feeds again, returning to camp at dusk. If the dry season is extensive it grazes at night and spends most of the day in wallows. Swamp buffalo live in groups of 50-250, each having their own range (grazing area, camp, wallow, drinking point and rubbing trees). When food and water are scarce, individuals often die rather than move to another area.
The Swamp Buffalo grazes selectively during the wet season on sedges and aquatic grasses. In the dry season it consumes most available grasses and herbage.
Here in Australia there now two types of ‘real’ buffalo, the swamp and the riverine. The swamp buffalo became a serious environmental problem in the Northern Territory when animals imported from Asia became feral. Only 41 swamp buffaloes were imported in the 1800s but by the 1980s there were an estimated 400,000 swamp buffaloes causing enormous damage to northern Australia. A cull program was instigated and the herd was reduced to less than 100,000.