Species: 12 species
Body length: longest—bison Bison sp., 6.8 to11 feet (2.1 to 3.5 meters); shortest—mountain anoa Bubalus quarlesi, 5 feet (1.5 meters)
Shoulder height: tallest—gaur Bos gaurus, 5.2 to 7 feet (1.6 to 2.1 meters); smallest—anoa, 2.3 feet (70 centimeters)
Weight: heaviest—Asian water buffalo Bubalus bubalis, 1,500 to 2,600 pounds (700 to1,200 kilograms); lightest—anoa, up to 330 pounds (150 kilograms)
Life span: 18 to 25 years in the wild, up to 36 in zoos
Gestation: 9 to 11 months, depending on species
Number of young at birth: 1 to 2, depending on species
Size at birth: 50 to 90 pounds (23 to 40 kilograms), depending on species
Age of maturity: males—3.5 to 5 years; females—2 to 3 years
Conservation status: tamaraw Bubalus mindorensis and kouprey Bos sauveli are at critical risk; lowland anoa Bubalus depressicornis, mountain anoa, Asian water buffalo, banteng Bos javanicus, gaur Bos gaurus, and wisent or European bison Bison bonasus are endangered.
Mountain anoas, also known as dwarf water buffalo,
are the smallest wild cattle alive today. These endangered animals
are only found on a few Indonesian islands, where they live in
There are about 1.3 billion domestic cattle in the world, making them the most numerous of all large mammals except humans.
The most common ancestor of domestic cattle was the auroch Bos taurus, a species that died out in the 1600s.
The Cape or African buffalo Syncerus caffer caffer is known for its bad temper, and won’t hesitate to fight. It will defend its territory, mates, and calves at all costs and has been known to attack and kill lions, leopards, and hyenas, and even humans if needed. Many people consider it to be the most dangerous mammal in Africa.
Animal Stories Blog: Ear Notches: Trash or Treasure?
Mammals: Wild Cattle
parts of Africa, Asia, and the islands of Southeast Asia; eastern
Europe; and North America
Wild cattle are larger members of the Bovidae family, a scientific grouping that also includes antelope, goats, and sheep. They include Asian water buffalo Bubalus bubalis, African or Cape buffalo Syncerus sp., bantengs Bos javanicus, gaurs Bos gaurus, yaks Bos grunniens, bison Bison sp., and all domestic cattle. Both male and female wild cattle species have horns, but the bull’s (male’s) horns are much larger and thicker than the cow’s (female’s). Cape buffalo have two horns that are joined so that they cover the whole top of the head. In most species, the bull is also much larger than the cow.
Bison or buffalo?
Huge herds of American bison Bison bison once roamed the open plains of North America. But early settlers of the West referred to them as buffalo, and somehow that name stuck. These days either term is considered correct when referring to Bison bison. However, there is no species named "American buffalo."
Safety in numbers
Herd size depends on the species. Gaur, bantengs, and forest buffalo Syncerus caffer nana form small herds of up to 10 animals. American bison and European bison (or wisent) Bison bonasus usually live in groups of 10 to 20 animals. The Cape buffalo Syncerus caffer caffer live in herds averaging 350 members. Anoas Bubalus sp. are the exception—they prefer to live alone or in pairs, probably because they live on small islands in thick forest habitat that is not suitable to large herds.
Often several herds may get together during the breeding season, then go their separate ways again. Within most cattle herds there can only be one bull for all the cows. Young males that don’t manage to take over the herd must head out on their own. Without the protection of the larger group, they often fall prey to leopards or lions. Sometimes the "bachelor" bulls will form small groups of their own. Water buffalo handle things a bit differently. Cows and their young form large "clans." The clan is led by the most experienced cow. Bulls move into the clan just to breed, then go back to their bachelor groups.
Everyone’s doing it
Cattle that live in large herds tend to do everything together. For example, the whole herd will eat at the same time, or lay down to rest at the same time. American bison are famous for running together for miles (kilometers) at the merest hint of danger. One loud snort from an alarmed herd member is all it takes to start a stampede.
Who’s the lucky guy?
Competition between the bulls during the rutting, or breeding, season can be fierce! Bulls ram heads and horns just like sheep and goats do, and make a loud bellow. The European bison makes a call that can be heard three miles (4.8 kilometers) away. Gaur bulls make a pleasant song that gets lower and lower the longer they sing it to get a cow’s attention. Bison cows have a sneaky trick to make sure they get the best bull possible: even if a bull wins a fight to claim her, she may run past other bulls to stir up yet another tussle.
Born on the go
Many mammal newborns, like kittens and puppies, are almost helpless at birth. Their eyes and ears are shut, and they can’t move around very well at first. But newborn cattle, called calves, are able to walk and then run shortly after they are born. This is important because most cattle live in open habitats that make them easy targets for predators. Being able to move quickly can help both cow and calf escape danger. Wild cattle cows give birth to just one calf, but domestic cows often have twins.
No rest for the weary
It may seem that cattle species don’t do much but rest and eat. But studies have shown that they only sleep from 2 to 10 minutes at a time, and they only get about an hour’s worth of sleep in a 24-hour period! Why don’t they sleep more? Because it’s not safe! Wild cattle must always be on the lookout for danger. Their good sense of smell, along with their eyes and ears, helps them tell when danger is near.
Protection from the elements
Wild cattle species are found in almost every type of habitat, and have developed ways to survive the weather. Yaks and bison often live high in the mountain areas of Asia. They have long, thick hair to keep them warm in the snow. Cattle that live in warm climates, such as buffalo, use pools of mud to help them cool off. Being covered in mud also keeps pesky insects from biting!
Grass on the menu
Most cattle are grazers, using their tongues and lower teeth to grab grass and leaves. After the food is swallowed, cattle can bring the partially digested food, called cud, back up to their mouth from the first compartment of their stomach for more chewing. They usually chew this cud during a rest period, when they are calm. At the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, the wild cattle species are fed high fiber pellets and Bermuda and Sudan grass hay, and have access to a salt or trace mineral lick.
Wild and domestic
Humans have been using cattle species such as dairy cows, yaks,
and oxen for thousands of years. These domesticated animals are
descendants of wild cattle such as bantengs, gaur, yaks, and water
buffalo, and are numerous throughout the world. Farmers and ranchers
keep trying to come up with new breeds of cattle that will be
hardier, more disease-resistant, or produce more milk. Meanwhile,
wild cattle species are becoming more rare, although they too
were once quite numerous. It is estimated that just 100 years
ago there were 40 to 60 million bison in North America. And in
1898 an explorer noted there were more yaks on a hillside than
there was hill! But over-hunting almost wiped about the American
bison; hunting for meat and horns and loss of habitat due to agriculture
have reduced the numbers of several other wild cattle species.
Another problem is domestic cattle sharing the same grazing space
and breeding with the wild species, thus reducing the numbers
of pure-bred cattle.