SHORT HISTORY OF BUFFALO IN THE NT 1820-2018
Buffalo were first introduced to the Northern Territory in 1826 on Melville Island followed by Fort Wellington in 1828 and Victoria settlement on the Cobourg Peninsula between 1836 and 1849. The buffalo were brought into these settlements from Indonesia (then the Dutch East Indies) from nearby islands. These early attempts to settle the Northern Territory were short lived and the buffalo along with other livestock were released, or escaped, and moved out along the Coastal Plains, Koolpinyah and Marrakai land systems, westerly toward Darwin and southerly into the Katherine and Arnhem land districts.
The first commercial uses of the buffalo in the Top End were for their hides, commencing around 1880. This trade ceased in 1956 when synthetics replaced buffalo leather products. A small live export market to Hong Kong existed between 1958 and 1962. The slaughter of buffalo for human consumption commenced in 1961 via field shooting and transportation to small meatworks. Three meatworks were accredited for restricted export and others certified for Australian consumption. Between 1972 and 1973 several Top End meatworks were upgraded to full US export standard and the export of boxed buffalo meat to the European Economic Community (EEC) was also commenced. This market was lucrative by comparison to beef at that time.
The national Brucellosis and Tuberculosis Eradication Campaign (BTEC) commenced on 01 January 1970 and ran very successfully for 27 years achieving its goal of eradicating brucellosis and tuberculosis from Australia’s livestock herd including cattle and buffalo.
Research evidence confirms buffalo do better than cattle in the floodplain environment, being able to graze in flooded situations and make better use of poorer quality roughage than cattle, particularly during the mid to late dry season. Since the late 1980's the number of domesticated buffalo has remained relatively stable at approximately 10,000 head on stations and properties across the Top End. However, technological advances including helicopters for mustering, four-wheel drive vehicles, and bionic arm catching equipment have increased productivity and efficiency rates for catching buffalo in fenced and unfenced environments.
Between 1994 and 1998 eight Riverine Buffalo were imported from the USA to establish a breeding herd at the Beatrice Hill Research Station for research and development purposes. Crossbreeding between Riverine and Swamp buffalo has been effective with evidence of the hybrid buffalo growing up to 40% faster than the swamp purebred counterpart progeny. Meat quality has been improved with the crossbreeds. One of the reported marketing advantages of buffalo meat is its leanness (and its lower cholesterol content) in comparison with beef and with many other meats commonly used in Australia. It has also high iron and zinc levels.