UNDER the heading of bovine animals are grouped the antelopes, oxen, sheep and goats. These include many of the animals man has domesticated and which are of the greatest use to him. Horns are nearly always present, often in both sexes, but they are very different from the antlers of the deer tribe, being a sheath of horn on an inner bony core. None of these animals shed their horns, except only the American pronghorn antelope.
The antelopes are of great variety and number, especially in Africa, where about nine-tenths of the species are found. Many of them are large and splendid creatures with great variety in their horn formation. In the kudu, the horns are spirally twisted; the sable and oryx have them in a sweeping curve. In the waterbuck, they are lyre-shaped; while in the gnus, they are bent horizontally.
In sheep and goats both sexes, for the most part, have horns, and they are generally flattened at the edges and turned backwards. The bodies of these animals are heavier and the legs shorter and stouter than those of the antelopes. Both sheep and goats are essentially mountain dwellers and are confined to the northern hemisphere. It is, however, very difficult to draw an exact line between them. Sheep feed on close herbage; goats browse on leaves and twigs. Sheep have small glands between the feet, while the rams lack the strong smell of male goats. In sheep the horns of the males tend to be twisted in a large curve. In goats the horns are straight, sweeping backwards. Goats usually have a beard.
Oxen are distinguished by having rounded horns instead of twisted ones, and they are usually pointing outwards. Most of them have been more or less domesticated and they form one of man’s most useful allies. In Britain the nearest approach to wild cattle are the ‘Chillingham Cattle,’ which are white in colour, with a dark muzzle, and have white horns tipped with black. Of this type are the Gaur of India, and their domestic counterpart, the Banteng. The humped cattle of India are marked by a fatty hump on the withers. Representatives of their type are seen in Egyptian monuments, a fact which proves the antiquity of the breed.
Bison are distinguished by having a shaggy mane, a hump on the shoulders, a very large head, and a tufted tail. The American bison, popularly misnamed ‘buffalo,’ is the largest
of North American hoofed animals. Enormous herds of them once covered the prairies. The story of their near-extinction has often been told, but it was the trade in skins (‘buffalo robes ‘as they were called) which did more than anything to reduce their numbers. They have now been placed under protection and are once more fairly abundant, so that there is not much danger of the species ever becoming extinct. Though formidable in appearance, the bison were never responsible for many human deaths, and there was more risk from a fall from horseback than from their horns.
The European bison is very similar in appearance to the American variety though rather lighter in build. Except for certain individuals in a semi-wild state, the race is much diminished in numbers. The true buffaloes, which in India and Indo-China are commonly domesticated, are heavy, powerful animals, with enormous backward-sweeping horns. In Africa, none of them are domesticated, but they are found in great numbers, ranging in size from the large, black Cape buffalo, to the much smaller, reddish ‘bush cows ‘of Western Africa.
Tibet has another member of the family in the yak, a beast of distinctive appearance, with long hair on the body and tail, and a humped shoulder with a heavy, low-carried head. It is known in both semi-wild and domestic states, the domesticated animal being used as a baggage carrier. It is slow but surefooted and capable of enduring the cold of high altitudes.