The Asian Water Buffalo (Bubalis bubalis) was introduced into the Northern Territory at the time of first colonial occupation. Between 1824 and 1849 they were brought from Timor, Kisar and probably other islands in Indonesia. The first European settlements failed but the imported buffalo thrived. By the early 1960s there were believed to be more than 200,000 feral buffalo living on the coastal floodplains between Darwin and Arnhem Land. They wreaked environmental havoc, in various ways, but creating channels for saltwater intrusion was one of the most damaging. But despite a population explosion on the lowlands, they did not arrive on the Arnhem Land Plateau until the mid-twentieth century, said Bardayal Nadjamerrek who was born on the plateau in 1926 and witnessed their coming. But the people of the plateau had long encountered buffalo on trips to visit other indigenous clans in the lowlands. These big and sometimes dangerous beasts created strong impressions in a landscape where the biggest animals had been emus and kangaroos. These first impressions of buffalo remain, albeit tenuously, in rock art depictions. Keith Nadjamerrek, son of Bardayal, is pictured beside an early and almost lifesize painting of a buffalo on his clan estate of Mankung Djang. The painting is slowly being lost to wind and water erosion. The depiction of the buffalo head is very interesting. The artist has drawn the head in both plan and side elevation views — the plan view showing the ears and horns and the side elevation showing the jaws and teeth. Perhaps, stretching reality a little for the sake of good story, the jaws have been drawn with recurved teeth, like a python, hinting at the power and dangerousness of the beast.
On the plateau the buffalo populations escaped much of the cull which wiped out the damaging herds on the floodplains in the 1990s. The highland buffalo have been causing great damage to the delicate upland wetlands through trampling, pugging and creating erosion channels. For about eight years now the indigenous land management group, Warddeken Land Management Limited has been undertaking an annual buffalo cull with highly trained shooters operating from helicopters and targeting the areas where most damage is happening. This important action has turned around a dismal future for the upland wetlands which are returning to health.

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