WILD buffaloes are not numerous and are only found in certain localities which suit their habits. Abundance of water to wallow in is absolutely essential to these ungainly creatures, and they are consequently only found where secluded tanks and river-pools exist in the depths of the forest. They are not found in the hills or in the south-western parts of the Island. The Sinhalese name is "wal miharak" and the Tamil " kûlû mâdû." A solitary bull is called in the former language "wal miwâ" and in the latter "kûlû kidâ."
The herds are generally small, rarely exceeding a score in number, and consist of cows and calves ; among which are often animals which are only half wild, being once tame beasts which have taken to the bush. The full-grown bulls are seldom with the herd but wander about by themselves and are a source of trouble and loss to the villagers as they often enter the village herds and fight with, and sometimes kill the tame bulls and carry off the cows. In districts where wild buffaloes are found in any number the villagers will not attempt to keep tame ones.
There is nothing in their appearance to distinguish wild from village buffaloes, they being ordinarily no bigger and having the same ungainly build, and hairless, slate-coloured hides. They may perhaps be said to have more grey about them, As with domesticated animals the males are larger than the females, and the bulls have massive curving horns, while the cows having usually longer, thinner and straighter ones. Solitary bulls sometimes grow to a great size, fifteen hands at the shoulder being about the extreme limit in Ceylon though they have been shot a good deal bigger in India. Their peculiarly high withers makes measurement at the shoulder give results out of proportion to the real bulk of the animal. In their behaviour wild buffaloes are very different from tame ones, being comparatively agile and alert. If they see or smell a human being they will be off at once, their actions shewing unmistakeably that they are forest-creatures.
Their habits are very similar to those of ordinary village buffaloes ; they spend much of their time in the water and graze at night or in the cool of the morning and evening.
Herds of wild buffaloes are easily found as the villagers generally know where their favourite wallowing-places are, and at what time they are accustomed to resort to them. As, however, no sportsman wants to shoot cows, the only advantage he derives from this is that he may chance to find with the herd some big bull which had temporarily joined it. If found grazing in the forest or wallowing in some pool the herd may easily be approached up-wind. If there is in it a cow with a very young calf she may give trouble, but, as a rule, on realizing that danger is near the whole herd will bolt headlong.
If come upon in the open, wild buffaloes will generally form in line and stand staring in the direction of the intruder with their noses stuck out and their horns laid flat on their necks. Suddenly one of them will give a snort and a stamp, and at the signal they will turn and gallop off heavily with their tails stiff out behind. Sometimes they will charge down on the sportsman in a body, but this is only when they are uncertain what danger is threatening them, and perhaps suspect it to be a sneaking leopard after their calves. A shout and waving the arms will generally turn them, but if that does not suffice, a shot the air is almost certain to send them flying.
It is almost as difficult to approach an old solitary bui in the open as to stalk deer. Before firing at one it is as well to have the positive assurance of some native of the place that it is wild. Not a few inexperienced sportsmen have had to face claims from indignant villagers to be paid the value of murdered domestic buffaloes. It is not altogether safe to act on the well-known paradoxical rule, "If the buffalo bolts it is a wild one, if it charges it is tame one !" as a bull which gallops off on sight of the sportsman may be really only a half-wild one.
When buffaloes charge, meaning mischief, they do so in a blind, headlong fashion with their heads down and one horn advanced, offering a very difficult shot. They are very tough brutes and will sometimes take half-a-dozen shots before falling, though, of course, one well-directed shot will cause instant death. When badly wounded they generally lie down, but if approached will make a dying effort to charge or get away.
Wild buffaloes are "game" under the Ordinance and are even more stringently protected than deer. There is no close season for them. They are seldom caught by the natives as they scarcely repay the trouble of trapping and training them.
The horns of Ceylon wild buffaloes are not to be compared with those obtainable in Central India, Burmah, and Assam. Horns measuring over six feet along outside curve across frontal bone are of quite exceptional size here, but would be thought little of in India.
The meat of wild buffaloes is not of course eaten by Europeans, but the tongue is sometimes cut out and salted.