Cattle Bos primigenius f taurus

Cattle are the oldest domestic animals. Their importance lies in giving meat, milk, and working power. Leather, fat, hooves, and horns are also valuable, and dried excrements are used as fuel, building material, and fertilizer. Cattle were first used as draft and riding animals, allowing people to drastically change their way of life. Some African people, for example the Hottentots, use them for riding even today. Cattle are the main source of meat and milk and the second most numerous domestic animal in the world, after domestic fowl. Under the cattle category, we can include the descendants of the aurochs, and those of other domestic cattle such as the yak, gayal, Bali cattle, and buffalo. They come from areas with extreme climatic conditions (high in the mountains or from the tropics), where they are used as domestic cattle. The kouprey (Bos sauveli) from the forests of Cambodia occupies a special place among cattle, for it may be the last surviving form of the wild ox, which went through an early form of domestication and then ran wild again.

The aurochs (Bos primigenius) was a progenitor of domestic cattle. It occupied the forests of the whole temperate zone of the Old World from Europe to north Africa and west Asia to the China Sea at the end of the last glacial period. In this large area, it developed more subspecies. The wild ox had survived almost until the end of that glacial period in Asia and north Africa, and in the middle and west European forests, until the end of the Middle Ages. The last individual became extinct in Poland in 1627. The domestication of the wild ox

The goat (Capra hircus) has many uses to humans, such as a food and clothing source. (Photo by Hans Reinhard. Bruce Coleman, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

began in 7000 B.C. and it is assumed that it started almost at the same time in several places—Greece, Macedonia, the Fertile Crescent (Mesopotamia, Egypt, Persia), and later (5000 B.C.) in the Indus Valley. It is possible (according to new genetic research) that an independent domestic center existed also in north Africa and could even be the oldest.

Why did people try to domesticate such massive and dangerous animals? They already bred sheep and goats at that time, which were sufficient as a source of food. It is possible that at first there were religious reasons. Wild cattle symbolized fertility and power for many cultures and they were significant sacrificial animals. Cattle derived from aurochs include some 450 breeds today and are divided into two basic groups. One is humpless cattle, which are the European descendants of the aurochs (B. p. primigenius, syn. Bos taurus). The second group includes cattle with a hump (zebu) whose progenitor is assumed to be the Indian subspecies of the aurochs (B. p. namadicus, syn. B. indicus).

The oldest known bone findings, which confirm the existence of humped zebu (thorny projections of neck vertebrae distinctly bifurcated) are almost 6,000 years old and come from Iraq. However, the domestication of the zebu probably occurred in the Indus Valley. The zebu adapted to subtropical and tropical climates and became resistant to tropical diseases. After domestication, it spread quickly to Malaysia, Indonesia, and China and to the west to Africa. Today it is one of the most plentiful cattle in the African tropics and sub-tropics and in the Indian subcontinent.

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