Significance to humans

Many species of bovids have attracted artists throughout the ages. Paleolithic artists commonly depicted bison and sometimes ibex, creating exquisite paintings and etchings on the walls of caves and other rock surfaces, as well as on portable artifacts. Later, petroglyphs and rock paintings of bovids have been found in Africa, Central Asia, and North America. A mythological creature, the Minotaur, a creature half human, half bull, comes from the Bronze Age Minoan culture of Crete, which flourished from around 2000 to 1400 B.C. Frescos and other artifacts from Crete show scenes of bull jumping, evidently a gymnastic sport practiced by both men and women, in connection with bull-worship rituals. The Minoans also sacrificed bulls, and bulls continued to figure in later Greek mythology. Human interactions with bulls continue to this day in the form of Spanish bullfights and Pamplona's annual running of the bulls.

Bovids have provided four of the world's most important domestic species of livestock: cattle, sheep, goats, and water buffalo. Wild goats were kept in captivity about 11,000 years ago in the Euphrates valley of southern Turkey, and goats and sheep were probably first domesticated about 10,000 years ago, with cattle perhaps a bit later. Some of the earliest sites of animal domestication are from the Middle East, an area referred to in archaeological literature as the "fertile crescent." However, there was very probably more than one center of bovid domestication, with the Indus basin and central Asia being the most likely. There were probably as many as three centers for the domestication of domestic goats, while for cattle, buffalo, and sheep, there were at least two centers.

Bovids are commonly hunted for meat and other products by local peoples in many parts of the world. Trophy hunters also seek out many species of Bovidae, primarily those species with large horns. In the southern Mediterranean, different forms of bull fighting have been popular, and even exported to Mexico. Perhaps these are derived from earlier activities in Greece and Crete.

"Bezoar stones," calcified concretions sometimes found in the stomachs of goats and ibex, were prized in the Middle Ages for testing whether food was poisoned. Aphrodisiac properties are still assigned to the horns of some species, and have most recently resulted in a major decline in saiga populations on the Russian steppe. This same "medicinal" trade is also beginning to impact wild sheep and goat populations in parts of Central Asia.

Bovids are not generally thought of as dangerous to humans, except perhaps domestic bulls and African buffalo. However, many species in this family are large and have dangerous weapons (hooves and horns), and adult males during the rut can be dangerous.

Domestic livestock, especially domestic goats, are often accused of being a major cause of habitat loss and degradation due to their overgrazing and over-browsing. This merely reflects their hardiness and wide feeding habits. The true re sponsibility for such habitat damage belongs to the humans who own them, but for many people forced to live in marginal areas, there is little choice but to eke out a living as best they can, even if this means degrading the vegetation on which they ultimately depend.

Pantholops Hodgsonii
A Tibetan antelope, or chiru (Pantholops hodgsonii), searches for vegetation under the snow in Chang Tang, Tibet. (Photo by George Schaller. Bruce Coleman, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)
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