Only in Brazil: Police Patrol on Buffaloes
|Military police officers patrolled on water buffaloes in Soure, a town of about 23,000 people on Marajó Island, as they have done since the 1990s. Photo: Marizilda Cruppe/ The New York Times.|
Real-life “Buffalo Soldiers” — military police mounted on gigantic water buffalo — routinely patrol the streets of the Brazilian island of Marajo, to the delight of tourists and Bob Marley fans.
For many years, the policemen of Soure, the capital of Marajo, have used the buffaloes to patrol the island, especially in remote places that cannot be reached with other means of transportation. It is the only police force in the world that uses buffaloes instead of horses.
The originality of Buffalos of Marajo Island
|Photo: Fernando Sette|
Since buffaloes appeared on the Brazilian island of Marajo, when they arrived from Asia a century ago, they have become a symbol for the region. The animals are well adapted to the water lands invaded by the Amazon River. Today there are more buffaloes than inhabitants on the island (250.00 people living here), and a large part of Marajo's economy is connected with these animals.
One tale holds that they originally came from the steamy rice fields of French Indochina, but washed up here after the wreck of a ship bound for French Guiana. Another yarn contends that inmates escaping from a penal colony in French Guiana used the adroitly swimming buffaloes to help guide their makeshift barges all the way to freedom in Marajó’s mangroves.
However they arrived, the invasive species multiplied on Marajó, and now numbers about 450,000 on an island the size of Switzerland. So much of daily life here revolves around the water buffaloes that islanders haul garbage with them, race them during festivals and regularly savor fillets of buffalo steak smothered in cheese made from, yes, buffalo milk.
Seizing on that idea, one of Brazil’s most unusual policing experiments came into existence. Water buffaloes have been domesticated elsewhere for thousands of years, called “the living tractor of the East” for their role in plowing fields, but officers with the 8th Battalion here hatched a plan to make their rounds atop the crescent-horned beasts.
Bazillian Police Patrol Using Buffalo: Why is it special?
The buffalo unit started in the 1990s, patrolling the sleepy outpost of Soure, which has about 23,000 people, and breaking up the occasional bar fight.
Over the years, the mission has expanded to include pursuing suspects who flee into Marajó’s wilds and cracking down on buffalo rustling on the island’s far-reaching ranches.
“Water buffaloes are remarkable swimmers, better than dogs, and more agile than horses when it comes to moving through mud,” said José Ribamar Marques, an official on Marajó with Embrapa, the pioneering Brazilian research company that focuses on tropical ranching and agriculture. “The animal is also docile, facilitating its contact with human beings.”
Indeed, the buffaloes of Marajó have certain advantages.
Their widely splayed hooves allow them to move with relative ease through muddy swamps. They also seem to deal well with the punishing heat of Marajó, which sits almost directly on the Equator.
Several breeds thrive on Marajó, like the Murrah, prized for its meat and milk, and the Carabao, known for its sickle-shaped horns. (Asian water buffaloes differ from the American buffalo, which is a bison, despite its name.)
And there is another benefit of using water buffaloes in police work, some officials say: It helps lower tensions.
The policing experiment has drawn interest elsewhere in the country. Piauí, a highbrow magazine in Rio de Janeiro, called the unit Brazil’s “Buffalo Soldiers,” a riff on Bob Marley’s reggae classic and the song’s inspiration, the African-American regiments of the American West in the 19th century. (The American soldiers rode horses, however, not buffaloes.)
Some on Marajó appreciate the attention.
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