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During the Pleistocene era the genus Bubalus was widely distributed throughout Europe and Southern Asia. As the climate became drier, the genus was limited to the Indian subcontinent, mainland South East Asia, and some South East Asian islands.2,3,4 Remnant populations are thought to exist at single sites in southern Nepal, southern Bhutan, western Thailand, eastern Cambodia, and northern Myanmar, and at several sites in India.1
The water buffalo is also believed to be extinct in Bangladesh, Peninsular Malaysia, and on the islands of Sumatra, Java, and Borneo. The domestic form (B. bubalis) occurs as feral and domesticated populations worldwide.5
Water buffaloes, as their common name suggests, are tied to the availability or water.1 Historically, their preferred habitats were low-lying alluvial grasslands and their surrounds, with riparian forests and woodlands also suitable habitat.6,7,8 In Indochina the species inhabited the lowland areas dominated by deciduous forests and with a marked dry season, where it apparently used small pools and marshes, in addition to the permanently flowing rivers.9 Free ranging domestic animals continue to live in this way, and in such areas buffalo retreat to the vicinities of larger more permanent water bodies during the height of the dry season, and move widely through forests at other times of the year.10
Before the decline in wild water buffaloes, they would make long distance movements with season, and were known to travel as far as 225km.11,12 Their upper elevational limit is difficult to ascertain, although they certainly occur down at sea level. This possibly relates to a need for level land rather than a preference for lower elevations.1
Domestication of wild water buffalo began approximately 5,000 years ago.14