Deer? Ox? Cow?

At less than a meter tall, the anoa looks sort of like a short, beefy deer. Or with its long, straight horns growing back along the length of its body, perhaps some weird gazelle/miniature cow hybrid. The anoa, of course, is neither—it is actually a water buffalo. The smallest water buffalo in the world.

But lest this endangered, little-studied tiny water buffalo be thought of as "cute" or "precious," it has sharp horns and knows how to use them.

Home Sweet Home
This little water buffalo is endangered with a population of only about 6,000 to 10,000 (estimate from 2000) split between two species. The anoa only lives one place—the island Sulawesi (once known as Celebes) in Indonesia. Sulawesi is the fourth largest island in Indonesia and is part of the Malay archipelago. This most mountainous of Indonesia's many islands covers an area (including all the little islands surrounding it) of about 227,000 km2 (a bit over 87,000 square miles) or slightly bigger than the state of Minnesota. In 2000, the (human) population was 14.1 million.

Sulawesi is an oddly shaped island that is basically four large peninsulas and has active volcanoes. Large parts are still heavily forested and undeveloped. Population and development is centered mainly in the southern and central part of the island. Outside of those areas, roads are mostly limited to the coast. In addition to the anoa, over half of its mammal species are found nowhere else in the world and about one-sixth are endangered.

As is abundantly clear from their common names, the lowland anoa lives in the lower elevations with flatter topography. It tends to stay in the forest and swamp areas (the anoa is the only buffalo that prefers thick forest as its habitat). The mountain anoa sticks to the more mountainous areas (mountain anoa have also been reported seen on the island of Butung or Buton near the coast of the Southeast peninsula). It also prefers dense forest, especially dense ground vegetation and is generally found there and not on open land like meadows near the forest. Water is important and both species remain fairly close. They also avoid human activity when possible. On the other hand, contrary to the "abundantly clear" info from their names, both species can sometimes be found in areas where the other is more common.

Loyal Order of Water Buffalos
Actually, anoa (which means "buffalo" in the local language) is only a species—two, in fact. There is the lowland anoa or Bubalus depressicornis and the mountain anoa or Bubalus quarlesi. Greek provides "bubalus" meaning "buffalo." Depressicornis is a latinized word combination referring to the way that the horns look pressed down. As for B. quarlesi, it refers to the Quarles mountain range that runs through Sulawesi.

Once considered its own genus (the actual order is Artiodactyla), the anoa has since been grouped with the water buffalo. Since there has only been limited study on the animals, it cannot be determined with certainty that these deerlike creatures are two separate species or just different body types. It isn't even clear if there are only the two species (if there are multiple species). For now, science recognizes the lowland and mountain anoa as distinct.

Snapshots of two buffalo
Both species weigh in the range of 150 kg to 300 kg (330 to 600 lb.), though lower weights are noted (the higher number is probably a rare upper limit). The mountain species seems to weigh less (probably in the middle of the range as its higher limit). The problem is that there is fewer data published on that species. Both species are stout and a bit barrel-shaped. The lowland anoa is about 180 cm (about 6 feet) and the mountain anoa about 150 cm (just under 5 feet). Their heights follow the same pattern with the lowland anoa 85 cm (almost 3 feet) at the shoulder and its sister species around 70 cm (just over 2 feet).

The mountain anoa probably also suffers from tail and horn envy.
lowland anoa:
tail: 40 cm (16 inches)
horn: 18 cm to 37 cm (7 to 15 inches)

mountain anoa:
tail: 24 cm (9½ inches)
horn: 14 cm to 20 cm (5½ to 8 inches)

The horns of the lowland anoa are triangular and flattened, growing straight from the head along the back. The texture is wrinkled in appearance. The mountain anoa's horns are smooth, round, and conical. The horns of females of both species tend to be somewhat smaller.

At birth, lowland anoa are covered with coarse, woolly fur that is yellowish brown in color. As they mature, they lose most of it, leaving short, dark brown fur on a black hide (females are somewhat lighter colored) and their underside is more lightly hued. They also have lighter white or yellowish fur on their forelegs and sometimes a crescent "bib" of lighter color around the neck (about where your cousin Tony the mobster would slit some ratfink's throat).

The fur of the mountain anoa young is much lighter than the adult. It is (really not kidding here) golden brown and then darkens with age. The fur of the adult is dark brown or black and tends to remain woolly throughout most of the animal's life (males darker than females). It can shed as the animal ages but never to the extent that it does in B. depressicornis. It does have small white spots but they are often hard to see. They appear just above the hoof in a similar area as its lowland relative. Its underside is slightly lighter (never white) and the face and neck do not exhibit alternate coloring.

How to behave
Like other ungulates, anoa have a diet that consists of plants. They eat various grasses and herbs, aquatic plants, leaves from small plants or young trees (bark, too), and even a little fruit (and ginger!). Anoa have been seen drinking sea water which presumably is a means of getting their necessary requirement of minerals. One of the advantages of the forest habitat is that it offers shade from the hot sun. The anoa is diurnal and tends to feed early in the day and then rests in the shade during the hottest parts of the day. They also (as do big water buffalo) wallow in water and mud to keep cool.

Unlike most other ungulates, anoa do not form herds or even small groups. They tend to be solitary or in pairs (mother and young or male and female). There have been a few reports of groups up to five but that's about it. They do seem to be territorial and males have been seen marking territory in that way so many animals do. There also seems to be behavior suggesting a hierarchy of dominance among animals (which might seem odd given their lack of herding) and probably relates to sexual pecking order for the males in a certain territory. There have also been observations of males sparring, though in what usually appears to be "play."

Anoa do make some vocalizations: soft grunts or moos (particularly when excited—double meaning both apt and intended).

How to behave: after hours edition
Neither species appears to have a mating season and can mate throughout the year, usually only producing one offspring. Both species have a gestation period of about 275 to 315 days. The little anoa is able to walk fairly quickly after birth and will remain with the mother for six to nine months before weaning. At about two or three years, the young will be sexually mature.

Both species seem to live to around 25 years, give or take. Possibly as long as 30—one in captivity lived to be 28.

Vanishing anoa
As noted, the anoa is two endangered species. They have no animal predators (though some small young are lost to pythons and a species of civet) and are at risk through human interaction. They have and still are hunted for food and their hides. Horns and skulls are sold for trophies—all this despite being a protected species. Illegal hunting occurs even within preserves making it difficult to protect the anoa. It is interesting to note that there wasn't much hunting until after the introduction of fire arms.

Human population encroachment, agriculture, and deforestation are leading to loss of habitat. With a relatively small range to begin with, this poses a serious situation. There have been attempts to preserve (as well as study—the info on the mountain species is sparse and primarily comes from a few studies, mostly in captivity) anoa in zoos and there are maybe two hundred in captivity, mostly B. depressicornis . There have been difficulties in successfully keeping them. Why? One reason and one last section. Read on!

"The horns! The horns!"
It was noted above that there is evidence of territoriality as well as a lack of herding among the anoa. Add this with the fact that, unlike many bovids, anoa tend to be more aggressive and willing to use their horns (even if they and their horns might seem smallish compared to—say—a full grown deer or elk). In particular, they seem to dislike humans (perhaps anthropomorphizing, but can you blame them?). Especially young males and females with offspring. Researchers and Sulawesi natives are well aware of the aggressive nature of the world's smallest water buffalo and some bear the scars of finding out the hard way. This also suggests a reason for the limited hunting prior to guns in Sulawesi.

And this is a problem with the zoo situation. Because of the animal's mainly solitary nature, territoriality and the nature of the space available at the average zoo, multiple anoa have been caged together creating problems. Like what, you ask?

The anoa used their horns to disembowel their rivals.

One hopes a solution can be found before the last one dies alone in one of those zoos and the smallest water buffalo in the world is no more.

"ADW: Bubalus depressicornis: Information"
"ADW: Bubalus quarlesi: Information"
"Animal Fact Sheets" (lowland anoa)
"Animal Info - Anoa"
"Animal Info - Mountain Anoa"
"IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Bubalus depressicornis"
"IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Bubalus quarlesi"
"Mountain Anoa Bubalus quarlesi Lowland Anoa Bubalus depressicornis"
"Lowland anoa"
"Mountain anoa"

A*noa" (#), n. [Native name.] Zool.

A small wild ox of Celebes (Anoa depressicornis), allied to the buffalo, but having long nearly straight horns.


© Webster 1913.

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