The water buffalo, along with the elephant, are the two most recognized animal symbols of Thailand. Both have a long and storied history within the Kingdom — as they are strong animals that have helped the Thai people with jobs demanding hard labor. The water buffalo and elephant also have sacred significance in Thailand. You will see elephant sculptures at many Thai temples, including the 3-headed Erawan elephant that carries the Hindu deity Indra.
The water buffalo is far less seen at Thai temples, except live ones wandering the grounds of village temples or the uncommon sculpture of one. The albino water buffalo has the most sacred significance in Thailand due to its rarity. In Native American traditions the white buffalo was a sign of hope and an indication of good times to come. In Thailand, the Albino water buffalo has similar auspicious connotations.
The body of an albino water buffalo was said to have powerful medicinal properties (in both Chinese and Thai traditions). Long ago in Thailand, the slaughtering of an albino water buffalo was overseen by a Buddhist monk who provided the appropriate blessings. Then the bones, milk, meat, organs, and horn of the buffalo were used to prepare various medicines. It was said that the bone powder when consumed could cure ulcers, joint pain and disease, lymphatic cancer, venereal disease, leprosy, and parasites.
The milk of the albino water buffalo (which is said to have a sweet and hot flavor) was believed to improve the appetite and cure the consequences of overindulgence and a late night out. When mixed with other medicines, it was said to enhance their medicinal properties. The cooked meat and internal organs of the albino water buffalo were believed to cure fevers, heat stroke, and neutralize poisons.
Not surprisingly, an albino water buffalo in Thailand is often more valuable than an ordinary black/grey water buffalo. The average price for an ordinary water buffalo (not one with an elite pedigree) is around 60,000 baht, while an albino water buffalo could be sold for over a million baht. Last year (2022) an albino water buffalo named Duangphet was sold for 2.5 million baht (approx. $76K USD). However, more and more buffalo breeders are attempting be breed albino water buffaloes to produce more albinos, so the price may begin to drop as the rarity drops.
Some Thailand provinces have a water buffalo festival. This past year, Sakon Nakhon celebrated its 24th National Buffalo Fair (มหกรรมกระบือแห่งชาติ). The festival attracts water buffalo breeders from around the region, and one will often see an albino or two at the festival. It is also possible on rare occasion to see an albino water buffalo when traveling the countryside in Thailand, as we recently did at the Huai Sai Reservoir in Sakon Nakhon. If you do, you can consider it a good omen that you are going to have a great day or wonderful Thailand holiday.