Water Buffalo A Cultural Symbol of Thailand

 

By Siwalai

Thailand is one of the world's largest producers of rice and farmers are the backbone of the country. In the past, water buffalo played a critical role in rice cultivation as Thai farmers used them to plough rice fields. Due to its close relationship with the farmer’s life, this animal is regarded as a cultural symbol of Thailand.

Water buffalo were once quite plentiful in Thailand. However, over the past several decades, their number has fallen sharply due to the introduction of tractors to help in rice farming. Farmers have turned to tractors in ploughing their fields because of their speed and efficiency. According to the statistics of Department of Livestock Development, in 2005 there were about 1.7 million water buffalo in the country. That number dropped almost by half to about 947,000 in 2015.

Facts about Thai Water Buffalo

Water buffalo is a member of the bovine family that is commonly found in Southeast Asia. There are different types of water buffalo. The water buffalo found in Southeast Asia, China and India are generally smaller than those found in other parts of the world.

Thai water buffalo are wide backed and have large, protruding bellies. They have a large boned frame with long legs, and black or dark grey skin. Their horns curve outwards and upwards. Horns of the females tend to be smaller and shorter than those of the males. Despite their large size and fearsome horns, they are very gentle and docile.

Buffalo are a sturdy draft animal. They are the ideal animal for work in the deep mud of paddy fields because of their large hooves and flexible foot joints. Their large splayed hooves allow them to walk easily through the mud. For small rice fields, they are the most efficient and economical means of cultivation.

Apart from ploughing, they are also used for threshing rice and for transporting the sheaves during the rice harvest. In the old days, when farmers had large quantities of rice to thresh, they used buffalo instead of manpower. A buffalo was tied to a vertical pole around which the harvested rice stalks were thrown. The buffalo walked round and round threading on the stalks to separate the rice grains from the stalks.

Mature male buffalo weighs around 600 – 650 kilograms, while female around 400 – 500 kilograms. They are 130 to 140 cm long from head to hoof with an average height of 125 – 140 cm. The average life span of water buffalo is 25 – 30 years. Female water buffalo reaches sexual maturity after 2 years and male after 3 years. The gestation period is about 11 months.

This species is a ruminant herbivore, eating only vegetation and grazing on grass most of the time. It also consumes herbs, leaves and agricultural crops. It produces copious amounts of dung which is used as fertilizer and as fuel when dried.

Water buffalo have fewer sweat glands than cattle and are thus sensitive to heat. During the hot hours of the day, they like to wallow in swamps or mudholes. Wallowing in mud helps to cool down their body temperature.

Water Buffalo in Thai Society

Water buffalo have been used for centuries by Thai farmers to do the hard work of ploughing rice fields, planting and harvesting rice. As such, in the past, the number of buffalo a family owned became one of the indicators of financial status.

However, with the arrival of the mechanization of farming around the 1960s, tractors (iron buffalo) have replaced water buffalo and their population has rapidly declined all over Thailand. Nowadays there are only a small number of rice paddies in remote areas that still use water buffalo for ploughing. Due to the sharp fall in their numbers, many people have become concerned that water buffalo may gradually disappear in Thailand.

Thai Buffalo Conservation Village

The Buffalo Conservation Village is located in Sri Prachan District, Suphan Buri Province, about 120 kilometers from Bangkok. It was established on 25th March 2002, occupying about 27 acres of land.

The Buffalo Conservation Village was set up to conserve Thai water buffalo which has been regarded as the backbone of Thailand’s agriculture, as well as to promote its importance in the life of Thai farmers. Buffalo are reared in this village in an attempt to breed and increase the population. It is also aimed to be an ecotourism destination that focuses on conservation of buffalo and rice production.

Famed as a popular tourist attraction of Suphan Buri, this buffalo conservation village not only keeps about 50 water buffalo, but also features the authentic rural lifestyle of farmers in Thailand. The village features a water buffalo show, display of daily activities of farmers such as rice-threshing, using buffalo in rice farming, ancient farming tools and traditional Thai houses on stilts. There are also a medicinal herb garden, orchid garden and sustainable agricultural area which is developed based on the new theory of the Late King Bhumibol.

In the buffalo show, you will witness many abilities of buffalo such as greeting, resting, smiling, climbing the stairs, three ways of mounting a buffalo, and buffalo standing close to one another to form a bridge. After the show ends, you can try a buffalo ride which is a rare opportunity.

You can stay overnight here if you like, as there is a zone called Baan Thai Resort providing accommodation in the form of traditional Thai houses. It is located by a beautiful lake in the northern section of the village and surrounded by lush gardens.

Thai Village

This conservation project not only preserves buffalo, but also the traditional way of Thai farmer’s life. A model of traditional Thai village has been created to give visitors an idea of what life was like in the past. The village consists of several wooden houses with thatched roofs and raised on stilts. The raised buildings are not only for protection against floods and wild animals, but the space below is used for storing farming tools, weaving and doing other activities when not engaged in planting or harvesting rice.

Visitor’s Information

  • Opening hours: 09.00 – 18.00 hrs. daily.
  • Buffalo show times: Monday – Friday: 11.00 and 15.00 hrs. / Weekends & Public Holidays: 11.00, 14.30 and 16.00 hrs.
  • Admission fees – adults 150 baht, children 70 baht
  • Buffalo show – adults 100 baht, children 70 baht
  • Buffalo wagon ride - adults 100 baht, children 70 baht
  • Combined ticket for all three activities – adults 320 baht, children 210 baht
  • Telephone: 081 358 7347, 035 582 591 to 2

Buffalo Racing Festival

The annual buffalo racing festival is held in Chon Buri Province for about one week in mid-October. Chon Buri is an eastern province of Thailand, located about 80 km. from Bangkok, and 60 km. from Pattaya, the most popular beach in eastern Thailand. 

The festival has been one of Chon Buri’s important traditions for more than 140 years. It often takes place at the end of rain retreat or end of Buddhist Lent, which corresponds to around mid-October. It is also a celebration among rice farmers before the rice harvest. The festival is held at the ground in front of Chon Buri city hall. The race is 100 meters long and jockeys sit on buffalo’s back wielding wooden sticks. There are over 300 buffalo competing in the race each year. The buffalo competition is divided into three categories depending on the sizes - small, medium and large.

Besides, there are many other exciting activities that take place during the one-week festival such as Miss Buffalo contest, buffalo beauty contest, buffalo costume contest, healthy buffalo contest, folk games and musical performances. Like all other festivals in Thailand, food is a key element of the buffalo racing festival as well. You will find numerous food stalls offering various delicious food items at every corner. The festival attracts thousands of visitors from all over Thailand as well as many overseas visitors.

If you happen to be in Bangkok or Pattaya during this period, you are highly recommended to include this in your travel list. It will be one of your exciting experiences in Thailand.


Remarks: Besides the Buffalo Conservation Village in Suphan Buri, there are three other places that preserve Thai buffalo as follows:

  • Thai Buffalo Training Camp, Mae Rim District, Chiang Mai
  • Buffalo Conservation Village, Phu Wiang District, Khon Kaen
  • Kason Kasit Wit School (Buffalo Training School), Muang District, Sa Kaeo

For package tours to Pattaya and Chonburi, please contact Alex Holiday Co., Ltd., Tel. +66(0) 2880 7388, +66 (0)8 1818 3805, www.alexholiday.com