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Carl Linnaeus first described the genus Bos and the water buffalo under the binomial Bos bubalis in 1758; the species was known to occur in Asia and was held as a domestic form in Italy.[16]Ellerman and Morrison-Scott treated the wild and domestic forms of the water buffalo as conspecifics,[17] whereas others treated them as different species.[18] The nomenclatorial treatment of the wild and domestic forms has been inconsistent and varies between authors and even within the works of single authors.[19]

In March 2003, the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature achieved consistency in the naming of the wild and domestic water buffaloes by ruling that the scientific name Bubalus arnee is valid for the wild form.[20] B. bubalis continues to be valid for the domestic form and applies also to feral populations.[21]