How Salt and Drought Affect Buffaloes in Iraq

Find out how salt and drought are affecting buffaloes in Iraq.
How Salt and Drought Affect Buffaloes in Iraq
Sebastian Ramirez Ocampo

Written and verified by the veterinarian and zootechnician Sebastian Ramirez Ocampo.

Last update: 12 February, 2023

Water buffaloes are considered to be the most widely distributed bovine species in Asian countries such as Iraq, Indonesia and Cambodia. They are characterized by reaching very large sizes in adulthood. A specimen can reach a height of more than 1.8 meters (5.9 feet) and weigh more than one ton. Find out how salt and drought are affecting buffaloes in Iraq.

Buffaloes in Iraq are generally used for agricultural work such as plowing the land, in addition to milking their milk, which has a higher content of fatty acids and proteins than that of the common cow.

Although water buffaloes are strong and resistant animals, several factors have led to their population being decimated, especially in the territories of the Iraqi country. Read on to find out how climate change and geopolitics are affecting this ancient bovine species.

Water buffaloes and water

As their name suggests, water buffaloes have a preference for aquatic and wet environments such as rivers and swamps. However, they can withstand hot climates of up to 30°C (86 F) or more pretty well.

However, in ecosystems with high temperatures, the availability of water is essential for their survival. This is because it’s a necessary element for both thermoregulation and hydration. Considering that Iraq has recorded temperatures above 40°C (104 F), the importance of water for the subsistence of these cattle in the territory is indisputable.

Water buffaloes.

However, due to geopolitical and climate change issues, the sources of this precious liquid in Iraq are becoming increasingly scarce. In fact, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, current water levels in marshes, wetlands and swamps are at their worst. Also, according to official data, the current drought is the most severe in the last 40 years and there’s no precedent for this situation.

In addition to the above, salt concentrations are increasing due to the decrease in water levels. This causes buffaloes to become intoxicated when consuming it or to produce milk that is unfit for human consumption.

The role of climate change and geopolitics

The effects of climate change on the planet are no secret. In recent years, there has been evidence of a drastic deterioration of both marine and terrestrial ecosystems, leading to the death and extinction of many species.

In the case of Iraq, the drought is not only caused by temperature changes over land and lack of rain, but also by other factors such as hostility with certain countries in the area.

For example, Turkey (that Iraq shares a great water source with – the Tigris River), has not reached a political agreement with that country so that both can use an equal amount of water. Similarly, another neighboring nation, Iran, has built a series of dams that cut off the flow of the Diyala River, an important source of water supply.

Consequently, all these situations have caused 46% of the marshes in southern Iraq to lose all their surface water. Similarly, according to the Dutch Peacebuilding Organization, another 40% of wetlands and marshes in the area have had their water and moisture levels reduced.

A buffalo.

The future of water buffaloes in Iraq

Although water buffaloes as a species are not endangered, their numbers in Iraqi territory are worrying. According to field surveys conducted by Unesco, about 6,000 farming families have lost most of their buffaloes.

Similarly, the drying marshlands are the habitat of numerous animals. These include birds, wild boars, fish and even otters.

Finally, if this situation continues, not only the livelihoods of these large cattle are at risk, but also the families that depend on them.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Escarcha JF, Lassa JA, Palacpac EP, Zander KK. Understanding climate change impacts on water buffalo production through farmers’ perceptions. Climate Risk Management. 2018;20:50-63.
  • Simba F, Chayangira J. Midseason droughts review for smallholder farmers in Buffalo Range, Zimbabwe. 2017.
  • Grassland Society of Southern Africa. Drought effects on buffalo numbers in Kruger. 2008;8:3

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.