Buffalo: Hiding in Plain Sight

Buffalo: Hiding in Plain Sight

Despite popular belief, neither cow nor buffalo are worshipped in India; one visit to the country is enough to convince even a blind vegetarian of this simple fact. 

Cows are respected and honored because according to Hindus, cows represent some combination of Earth, life, sustenance, and all other creatures.  Although someone wanting to be a cow in India is virtually unimaginable, there is a creature that seems to be taking advantage of its relationship with the Bos taurus: the Asian buffalo.

To laugh is human but to moo is bovine. ~Author unknown
buffalo_and_cow
Hiding from the man among their more venerated kin.

Just as common on the streets of India as the cow, the Asian buffalo, water buffalo, or simply buffalo in India is a fixture of daily life.  Since they don’t enjoy the same venerated status as their bovine cousins, they try to stay under the radar.  Large numbers of buffalo are often seen meandering down the road alongside one or more Indian cow, likely figuring out long ago that sometimes it’s best to hide in plain site.

Buffalo have good reason to hide.  India is the largest beef exporter in the world and most of that beef doesn’t come from cow.  Instead, India exports the red-headed step child of the bovine family, the buffalo.  It doesn’t just send a few buffalo, India exports over 2 million metric tons of buffalo each year; roughly the equivalent of 2 million buffalo.  Hiding isn’t optional, it’s survival.

Never take any bull from anybody.  ~Author unknown.
Definitely Cow
To beef or not to beef, that is the question.

Technically, buffalo meat isn’t beef, it’s carabeef, a chewier and cheaper beef alternative.  But because the USDA classifies buffalo as beef, Bubalus bubalis is prime rib in India’s Hindu-majority export market—this despite India’s Union Environment Minister describing how “30 kilograms of plastic can be found in the stomach of every cow or buffalo which dies in India.”  Even a tummy full of polyethylene can’t keep buffalo safe; which explains their use of camouflage.

The buffalo is not alone in selecting “in plain sight” as a cover tactic; history and the animal kingdom are aged with camouflage examples.  The chameleon is a master at blending into it’s surroundings, as are phasmids, which look like sticks; the military produces camouflage uniforms for soldiers, marines, and sailors—although one must question the US Navy’s logic behind camouflaging someone to look like the water in which they are likely to fall; and the US Marshal’s Service developed an entire protocol around hiding people in plain sight called Witness Security Protection (WitSec).  India’s buffalo are simply pinning their hopes, along with their short ribs on time tested practices.

Buffalo in plain sight.
Perhaps they just need to recruit more cows to help?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear the buffalo’s tactic is working.  Perhaps what’s needed is a lesson from the professionals.  The CIA has decades of experience sending case officers and agents into hostile territory to hide in plain sight and gather intelligence.  In January 2014, Fox News interviewed Jonna Mendez, former Chief of Disquise at the CIA and founding member of the international spy museum.  She acknowledged, “Keeping your disguise intact can be a matter of life or death,”—an idea more applicable to 2 million buffalo a year than a few spies.     

It’s better to be seen and not herd. ~Author unknown.

But tradecraft is complicated and spies are naturally reluctant to share specifics, even to save the brisket of a couple million buffalo.   Luckily, wikiHow provides a detailed list of techniques for hiding in plain sight.  Let’s take a look at a few of the suggestions and see how many the buffalo are following—we’ll use the time tested Pass/Fail system to grade their efforts:

Hide your distinctive qualities.  The buffalo is not doing a very good job of hiding the fact that it is a buffalo.  It’s horns are distinctively different than those of its beloved cousin, yet it refuses to don a hat or headscarf.  FAIL.

Dress yourself down.  Buffalo in India definitely do not look tasty.  They are dirty with dark eyes, sunken features, and emaciated bodies—until they are hit by an auto and left to bloat in the sun.  PASS.

Leave the accessories at home.  Few of our edible friends wear jewellery, pins, or patches—unless they are attempting to blend in with pirates.  PASS.

Apply camouflage.  Although the latest US woodland Multi Camo uniform might be overkill, a nice pair of slacks and a kurta could help keep buffalo off the radar—and the plate.  FAIL.

Obey the rules.  Buffalo are the bad boys of the open road, moving against traffic at night without headlights with little regard for their safety or the safety of others—just like Indian drivers.  Obeying the rules if they exist is simply not in their nature.  FAIL.

Follow the behavior of people around you, Regulate your movements and keep them casual, and Stick to near the center of the crowd.  Both buffalo and their tastier cousins walk without a sense of purpose, nonchalantly roaming down the middle of the road, mooing, eating and crapping their way from one meal to the next.  Some stick to the center of the herd, but others remain conspicuously on the fringe.  PASS (but barely).

Remain silent, Avoid unnecessary conversations, Act agreeable, and Avoid eye contact.  Our friendly buffalo is rarely observed in conversation, even with their own species; however, when they do engage, interactions do not result in violent confrontations or animated discord.  They do partake in a considerable amount of eye contact, perhaps hoping their soulful gaze will convince people they are as deserving of veneration as their respected relative.  PASS (but with reservations).

Turn the udder cheek and mooo-ve on. ~Author unknown.
Happy cows make happy milk.
Kids don’t care whether they feed cows or buffalo.

Buffalo in India are simply not taking the concept of “hide in plain sight” seriously; however, they do appear to be making an effort.  The buffalo may be trying to hide its chops, but it will need to go much further if it wants to change its fate—half hearted measures are not cutting it.  In the meantime the best buffalo can hope for while hanging out with cow is cars missing them trying to avoid their cherished kin.

Update: A reader suggested that the buffalo quit trying to hide in plain sight and simply cross breed.  The idea has merit, but implementation is problematic.  India is a country of castes, if the buffalo wants to change its station in life, it needs to figure out a way to do more than blend—it needs to become a cow.  It takes significant effort, candlelight dinners, soft lighting, whispering poetry, flowers, and gallons of wine for the buffalo to swoon its admired cow relation.  Even sweetening the deal with small gifts isn’t a guaranty of commitment and consummation.  In the end the effort remains fruitless—the offspring are sterile.


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Unless otherwise noted, I drew or took the photographs in the article—as lame as they may look.  Sometimes drawings come from my head, other times they’re from something I saw somewhere.  Any resemblance to persons living or dead is probably planned.  Copyright can be found here for my original work.

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