Water buffalo were introduced to the Northern Territory from Indonesia (mainly Timor) in the early 1800’s. They were used in remote northern British settlements as working animals and to provide meat.
When these outposts were abandoned, the buffalo escaped or were released and became a feral population. They thrived in the wild, especially along the coastal plains and swamps. The then-wild buffalo subsequently multiplied to a point where they began to present serious problems. The range occupied by feral buffalo in the Top End of the Northern Territory still appears to be increasing. In 2008 it was estimated that there was a population of 150 000 buffalo across northern Australia.
Buffalo can grow up to 180cm in height and weigh between 450-1200 kg. Horns of male buffalo can grow up to 3 metres in length. Buffalo calves and cows live in groups, and female calves often remain with their mothers for life.
They live mainly in freshwater floodplains, billabongs, woodland and sandstone escarpment habitats in tropical and sub-tropical areas, and their territory range can be quite expansive during the wet season. Buffalo are active mainly at night and at dusk, spending the rest of the day wallowing in mud or resting in woodlands.
Buffalo can cause significant extensive environmental damage, such as disturbance of soils and trampling of vegetation, disturbing bird and reptile nesting sites (eg. Magpie geese and crocodiles), spreading exotic weeds particularly Mimosa pigra, and generally demolishing delicate ecosystems. They also have the potential to carry and spread diseases, such as foot and mouth disease, brucellosis and tuberculosis which effect other animals and people.
On floodplain habitats where buffalo are prevalent, their regular movements along pathways called “swim channels” destroy vegetation and erode the soil creating new drainage channels. The alteration of floodplain hydrology by swim channels can lead to saltwater intrusion (landward expansion of sea water). Saltwater intrusion has been implicated in the loss of extensive areas of paperbark forest on NT floodplains.
Dhimurru works closely with Police, Parks and Wildlife, and the Nhulunbuy Corporation to opportunistically cull buffalo around the township of Nhululnbuy, as well as throughout the Dhimurru IPA.
Apart from its own patrols Dhimurru relies on alerts from members of the public and urges anyone encountering a buffalo to call our office (8939 2700) and/or our after hours number (0408 512 589). Please call immediately or as soon as possible after a sighting to help maximise our chances of intercepting the buffalo. You should also ring the Police (8987 1333) particularly if you think the Buffalo poses an immediate or imminent threat.
Buffalo are extremely dangerous and should not be approached under any circumstances. They can be aggressive and are often unpredictable. In order to minimise your chances of having an uncomfortable interaction with buffalo Dhimurru provides the following recommendations:
1. Be extra careful at dawn and dusk when buffalo are at their most active;
2. If you are out walking it is best to be noisy as buffalo are less likely to attack if they have heard you coming and have the option of moving away;
3. Buffalo have a strong and distinctive odour and often you will smell them before you see them. Use your nose and try to organise your walk so that you have the breeze in front of you if you can;
4. Walking in the town area and with other people around will be safer than walking alone and in the bush;
5. Keep your eyes peeled as buffalo are surprisingly hard to see until they make a move;
6. Keep your dog(s) in close control;
7. As you're walking keep an eye out for big trees where you can take refuge if you need to hide behind one.
If you are unlucky enough to encounter a buffalo try to stay calm, keep your eyes on it, and start backing away quietly. Do not let your dog chase the buffalo; keep it under as tight control as you can without multiplying your own exposure. If the buffalo charges then try to get behind a tree or other obstacle as quickly as possible.
If you take reasonable precautions when you're out and about you will be just fine, don't take buffalo for granted and stay well clear.
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* Information Courtesy of the Parks & Wildlide Commission NT www.parksandwildlife.nt.gov.au
"Ngilimurru bukmak djaka wangawu - All of us together, looking after country"