Have you heard of water buffalo in Israel? There’s a herd of water buffalo at the Hula Reserve in the North of Israel and another herd at Tel Afek (near Haifa) – so, should you encounter a gruff-looking cow there, grazing in the water, it’s more likely than not a gruff-looking water buffalo, which is not to be confused with a gruffalo. Bubalus bubalis, as the Pope would call it, commonly known as water buffalo hadn’t, been seen in Israel for a hundred years or so before they were reintroduced recently and now the biggest herd in Israel is to be found in the Hula Reserve.
They are similar in many ways to their more common farm-animal ‘cousins’, the cows and bulls we all know so well. But water buffalo tend to be bigger and heavier, and their milk is richer, which makes it suitable for making cheeses, such as mozzarella. They are also, as their name indicates, partial to sauntering in shallow water, for which their large hooves are particularly useful. And they enjoy wallowing in mud as much as do hippopotami and young children.
Kosher though they are, both chewing their cud and having cloven hooves, the water buffalo in the Hula are well protected and will certainly not end up on your dinner plate. They’re thought of as a domestic animal, but their speed and bulk keep them out of harm’s way from predators in the wild and they will even put up a good fight against lions and tigers. Female buffalo have small horns but the males’ can reach a meter and a half which makes for quite a weapon. So, when you’re next at the Hula Reserve or Tel Afek try not to get too close a view of these large bovines.