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What Kinds of Buffaloes Are There?

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All buffaloes belong to the Bovidae family, which includes creatures such as yak, wild and domesticated cattle and goats. Three species of buffalo exist: water buffalo, cape buffalo and American buffalo. However, argument exists over whether the latter can be considered a true species of buffalo.

Water Buffalo

The water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) is the largest buffalo and in fact the largest of all members of family Bovidae. Weighing between 1,500 and 2,650 pounds ,and standing between 5 and 6.2 feet at the shoulder, the water buffalo is formidable. Males of the species have horns, which can span up to 5 feet across. They live in wetlands and marshes in the tropical or subtropical forests of Asia. The species are currently endangered and live in small, protected areas of Nepal, India, Bhutan and Thailand.

Cape Buffalo

The cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer) is sometimes also known as the African buffalo, because it can be found all over sub-Saharan Africa. There are thought to be two subspecies: the savannah type and the forest type. The savannah type weighs between 1,000 and 2,000 pounds and is black or dark brown with closed crescent horns. The forest type has a red-brown coat, is smaller than the savannah type and has horns that curve upward and backward.

The American Buffalo

American buffaloes (Bison bison) measure 5 to 6 feet at the shoulder and can weigh between 800 and 2,000 pounds. As grazers, they mostly live on prairies, plains or in river valleys, but some sometimes be found in forests. They were once populous across North America, but their numbers declined drastically, due to overhunting and loss of habitat, until there were fewer than 1,000 remaining in 1900. Since then, due to careful regulation and breeding programs, their numbers have increased to around 30,000 but they can still only be found in national parks and private rangeland.


American buffalo are actually bison. Early settlers and explorers in North America referred to them as buffaloes because they resembled them, but they're quite different. Bison do belong to the Bovidae family, which is the same family both buffalo species belong to, but it's also the family to which domestic cattle and goats belong. Many people believe that it's a misnomer to call an American buffalo a true buffalo.