Antelopes, Cattle, Bison, Buffaloes, Goats, and Sheep: Bovidae

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

ANTELOPES, CATTLE, BISON, BUFFALOES, GOATS, AND SHEEP: Bovidae

WATER BUFFALO (Bubalus bubalis): SPECIES ACCOUNTS
AMERICAN BISON (Bison bison): SPECIES ACCOUNTS
BLACK WILDEBEEST (Connochaetes gnou): SPECIES ACCOUNTS
THOMSON'S GAZELLE (Gazella thomsonii): SPECIES ACCOUNTS
KIRK'S DIKDIK (Madoqua kirkii): SPECIES ACCOUNTS
SEROW (Capricornis sumatraensis): SPECIES ACCOUNTS
BIGHORN SHEEP (Ovis canadensis): SPECIES ACCOUNTS

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Bovids (BOH-vidz) vary in weight, from 6.6 to over 2,867 pounds (3 to over 1,300 kilograms), with a shoulder height range of 9.85 inches to 6.56 feet (25 centimeters to 2 meters). Bodies range from slender with long legs to stocky and muscular. All bovid males have horns, as do many females. Horns are bony and covered with keratin (KARE-ah-tin; protective material that makes up hair and fingernails). Bovids do not shed the keratin layer. They have hooves and four stomach chambers, which allows for efficient digestion.

Bovids have a number of scent glands on different parts of their bodies. They secrete oil from these glands during mating season, when in danger, or to mark territory.

Bovids range in color from white to black to orange-yellow. Most are some shade of brown.

GEOGRAPHIC RANGE

Found in Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America.

HABITAT

Bovids occupy a wide variety of habitats, including grasslands, swamps, tropical forests, arctic tundra, desert, cliff faces, and mountain ledges. Most abundant in tropical forests and grasslands. They occupy different habitats at different times of the year, with migration (seasonal movement from region to region) dependent upon food supply.

DIET

Bovids are herbivores (plant eaters) with four stomach chambers. The fact that they have four chambers means they can survive on plants few other animals could digest. They feed mainly on grasses, first by winding them around their tongues and pulling them from the ground, then swallowing them. After some time has passed, bovids will regurgitate (vomit) the swallowed food, chew it, and swallow it again. Bacteria in the stomach breaks down the food and allows digestion to occur.

BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION

Some species are solitary (lone) while others live in herds or groups with complex social structures. Some species are territorial and will defend their ranges year-round or only during the mating season. Others live on ranges that are used each year. Many bovids are vocal, and calls range from lion-like roars to whistles and grunts.

Bovids are primarily polygynous (puh-LIH-juh-nus; one male to several female mates). Males often defend mating territories. Most females give birth to their first young around the age of two or three years. Males usually wait until they are a little older, primarily because they have to compete with other, older males to mate. Gestation (pregnancy) times vary according to species, but usually one, sometimes two, babies are born each year. Females care for their young without the help of the father. Adult males live separately, either alone or in small herds, from the females for most of the year.

Bovid offspring nurse (drink mother's milk) for at least a month, sometimes until the age of two or three years. Predators include tigers, small cats, wolves, and leopards.

BOVIDAE AND PEOPLE

Bovids have been hunted extensively for meat, sport, and hides, some species to the point of serious threat to the population. Many species—goat, sheep, cattle, buffalo—have been domesticated (tamed) and are raised for their meat and skin.

CONSERVATION STATUS

As of 2004, 114 species are listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Loss of habitat is the main reason for threat. Increasing human populations require more land and natural resources. Hunting has affected bovid populations as well, but to a lesser degree.

WATER BUFFALO (Bubalus bubalis): SPECIES ACCOUNTS

Physical characteristics: Water buffalo measure 98.4 to 118.1 inches (250 to 300 centimeters) long and stand 59 to 74.4 inches (150 to 189 centimeters) at the shoulder. They weigh between 1,543 and 2,645 pounds (700 to 1,200 kilograms), with females weighing about 20 percent less than males. They are the largest bovids, with disproportionately big feet and wide hooves. Fur is dark gray to black in wild species. Tail ends in a bushy ball of black hair. Males have crescent-shaped pointed horns that measure around 47.2 inches (120 centimeters) long. Females also have horns.


Geographic range:

Found in India, Nepal, and Bhutan. A small population lives in a wildlife reserve in Thailand.

Habitat: Water buffalo live in tropical and subtropical forests as well as grasslands. They live near water, from swamps to woodlands and

plains. They not only drink the water, but spend much of the day partially submerged so that they remain cool and ward off insects.


Diet: This bovid eats grasses, herbs, aquatic plants, and other vegetation.


Behavior and reproduction: Water buffalo form herds of females and offspring of up to thirty individuals. Old males are solitary. After a 300- to 340-day pregnancy, females give birth to one calf, sometimes to twins. Calves nurse for six to nine months. Female calves sometimes remain with the mother for life. Males leave around the age of three years. Females are ready to mate around eighteen months of age. This bovid will interbreed with domesticated cattle.


Water buffalo and people: Water buffalo were first domesticated in China more than seven thousand years ago. They provide meat, hides, horns, milk, and butter fat. For native cultures, they also provide an inexpensive method of power for plowing fields and transporting people.


Conservation status: Listed as Endangered, facing a very high risk of extinction, by the IUCN. Domesticated populations are abundant, but there are fewer than four thousand wild water buffalo in the world. Existing populations are small and separated by a great distance from each other, which limits reproduction. ∎

AMERICAN BISON (Bison bison): SPECIES ACCOUNTS

Physical characteristics: Females are 20 percent shorter in length and 40 percent less in weight than males. Males measure 85.2 to 125.2 inches (242 to 318 centimeters) long and stand 65.7 to 73.2 inches (167 to 186 centimeters) at the shoulder. They weigh between 1,199 to 1,999.5 pounds (544 to 907 kilograms). This is the largest mammal in North America. Though it appears to hold its head low, there is actually a hump over the shoulders. Legs are short and tail is medium length with a tuft of black hair on the end. Coat is brown to dark brown, and hair is longer on front and top of head, along the neck, shoulders, and forequarters. Ears are partially hidden. Both sexes have a beard of long hair as well as a mane of dark hair along the lower portion of the neck to the chest. Males have short black

horns that go out on the sides and curve upward. Females' horns are shorter, skinnier, and more curved.


Geographic range: Found in a select few parks and refuges of North America.


Habitat: This bovid needs plenty of grassland and meadow for grazing. It lives in mixed wood forests as well as prairies and plains.


Diet: The American bison is not picky about what it eats. They eat huge quantities of low-quality forage (grasses, herbs, and shrubs) and supplement their diet with berries and lichen (fungi found growing on trees). Uses head to remove snow from vegetation during winter.


Behavior and reproduction: Form mixed groups consisting of females, calves, and males aged one to three years. During mating season, adult males may join these herds. Males form groups of up to thirty animals, though they also are found alone or in pairs. During migration, herds join together and may travel more than 124 miles (200 kilometers) to find ranges where food is more plentiful. American bison like to wallow in shallow holes which they dig in the ground.

These polygynous bovids mate from July through September, with seasons varying depending on the region. Females go through 285 days of gestation and deliver a single calf in the spring, usually each year. They like to give birth in heavily concealed areas for privacy and protection, and they stay separated from the rest of the herd for a couple days. Within three hours of birth, the calf can run, and it is nursed for seven to twelve months.


American bison and people: Bison were important game animals for native populations across North Amerca. They provided meat, bones for tools, hides for blankets, leather for clothing, and sinews for twine. Today, bison is raised on ranches for its meat.


Conservation status: Bison are not considered threatened. They once ranged across half of North America and numbered in the millions. Because they are ranched throughout the continent, their population is not in danger of extinction, despite the fact that very few live in the wild. Disease and parasites are the main threats to the American bison. ∎

BLACK WILDEBEEST (Connochaetes gnou): SPECIES ACCOUNTS

Physical characteristics: Also known as the gnu, this bovid weighs 242 to 396 pounds (110 to 180 kilograms) and measures 5.6 to 7.3 feet (170 to 220 centimeters) long. Shoulder height of 3 to 4 feet (90 to 120 centimeters). Females are slightly smaller than males. Coats are dark brown to black, with males darker than females. A short mane on neck stands up and is whitish with black tips. The beard is black.


Geographic range: The black wildebeest lives in east-central South Africa.


Habitat: This bovid lives primarily in open grassland where water is available.

Diet: Prefers short grasses but is known to browse on bushes and other vegetation to supplement the winter diet. Need to drink every one to two days.


Behavior and reproduction: Females and young form herds while males form their own groups. Males will defend territories during mating season by horn wrestling and loud vocalizations. Some are migratory.

Males "perfume" themselves for courtship by rolling in their urine and dung. They further draw attention to themselves by bellowing out a "ge-nu" call, foaming at the mouth, and dashing madly around while shaking their heads.

Mates from February through April, and after a gestation period of 240 to 270 days, females give birth to a single calf. Young walk within ten minutes of birth and are nursed for about four months. Females are ready to breed between eighteen and thirty months, males at three years. Lifespan in captivity is around twenty years. Lion and hyenas will take down lame or sick adults, and babies fall prey to wild dogs, leopards, and cheetahs.


Black wildebeest and people: Settlers viewed this bovid as a pest and did their best to kill them all. They used their tails as fly swatters.


Conservation status: Extinct in the wild, but captive black wildebeest populations are abundant, so they are not considered threatened. ∎

THOMSON'S GAZELLE (Gazella thomsonii): SPECIES ACCOUNTS

Physical characteristics: Weighs 29 to 66 pounds (13 to 30 kilograms) and measures 3 to 4 feet (91 to 122 centimeters) with a tail length of 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 centimeters). Females are slightly smaller than males. Coat is reddish brown on top with a white belly. A black stripe runs from the foreleg to the hindquarters, and there is a white patch on the rump that extends to the black tail. Eyes rimmed with white that reaches to the nose along the muzzle and above the black cheek stripes. Males' horns are slightly curved and measure 11.5 to 12.0 inches (29.2 to 30.5 centimeters) and are used solely for fighting other male gazelles. Female horns are shorter and thinner and are used to defend their feeding area.

Geographic range: Found in Kenya, Ehtiopia, northern Tanzania, and southeast Sudan.


Habitat: Prefer the short grassy plains and savannas (tropical plant community characterized by shrubs and trees amidst cover of grasses and herbs) so that large herds can feed together. During the drier season, they move to the taller grasslands.


Diet: Grasses make up about 90 percent of this bovid's diet during the dry season, but it also feeds on shrubs and seeds, alfalfa, hay, and leaves.


Behavior and reproduction: This gazelle is most active early and late in the day. It rests during the hottest part of the day. Rather than fight, Thomson's gazelles will flee from predators, reaching speeds of 40 to 50 miles per hour (65 to 80 kilometers per hour). They are fantastic leapers, able to reach 30 feet (9 meters) in a single bound and up to 10 feet (3 meters) vertically. Their speed comes from long foot bones and anklebones.

They live in herds of two to twenty individuals, and members can change by the hour. Multiple herds interact with each other. Territories range from 6 to 495 acres (2 to 200 hectares) but are usually between 25 and 75 acres (10 and 30 hectares). Because they are water-dependent, they sometimes travel up to 100 miles (160 kilometers) to find water during the dry season.

Males establish territories during breeding season and mark them with urine and dung piles as well as secretions from scent glands. The polygamous (puh-LIH-guh-mus; having more than one mate at a time) Thomson's gazelle breeds twice annually. Females give birth to one offspring after a gestation lasting five to six months. Mother and baby stay separated from the herd for a couple weeks. Offspring can run by four weeks, and they nurse for four months. Predators include cheetahs, leopards, lions, and hyenas. Young gazelles are also killed by pythons, eagles, baboons, and jackals. Life span in the wild is roughly ten years.


Thomson's gazelle and people: These gazelles are hunted for food and skins.


Conservation status: Although predation is high, populations are secure because they are fast breeders. Females are ready to breed again within two to four weeks after giving birth. Thomson's gazelle is not threatened. ∎

KIRK'S DIKDIK (Madoqua kirkii): SPECIES ACCOUNTS

Physical characteristics: This small antelope measures 22.5 to 29.5 inches (57 to 75 centimeters) long and 14 to 18 inches (35 to 45 centimeters) high. It weighs just 6 to 14 pounds (2.7 to 6.5 kilograms). The fur on its back is gray with black and white flecks; face and legs are tan, and the chin, belly, and underside of the tail are white. The crest of fur on the head is yellow-orange, as are the face and legs. Ears are large, and big eyes are ringed with short white fur. Males have large glands beneath the eyes, and their sharp horns grow to be 4 inches (10 centimeters).


Geographic range: This dikdik is found in Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia, Angola, and Namibia.

Habitat: This dikdik lives in dry, hot regions of mixed woodland. Uses thickets and thorny bushes for cover.


Diet: Kirk's dikdik browses on herbs, leaves, evergreen shoots, fruits and berries, and flowers during the day and night. It rises on hind legs to reach food if necessary, and gets minerals by eating soil and bones and by visiting saltlicks. It does not need regular water intake.


Behavior and reproduction: This dikdik lives in pairs and defends their territory by chasing same-sex intruders. Territory is marked with urine, dung, and secretions from scent glands. Males defend territory boundaries by butting bordering vegetation and raising the hair on their heads. It makes six different vocalizations.

Pairs are monogamous (muh-NAH-guh-mus; mate only with each other) for life. After a gestation period of 166 to 174 days, females birth one young. Offspring are able to join parents after six weeks of hiding in vegetation, and they nurse until eight or ten weeks of age. Dikdiks are ready to mate between six and eight months, and females are ready to breed again within ten days of delivering their babies. Predators include eagles, pythons, lizards, lions, cheetahs, wild dogs, and hyenas. Life span in the wild is three to four years.


Kirk's dikdik and people: Common source of meat throughout its range.


Conservation status: Kirk's dikdik is not considered threatened. Total population is estimated to be from the hundreds of thousands to two million. ∎

SEROW (Capricornis sumatraensis): SPECIES ACCOUNTS

Physical characteristics: The serow weighs 110 to 300 pounds (50 to 140 kilograms) and measures 55 to 70 inches (140 to 180 centimeters) long. Stands 33 to 37 inches (85 to 94 centimeters) tall. Grayish black upperparts with whitish underparts. Horns are slim and curved back.


Geographic range: Serows are found in the Himalayas of India, Nepal, and Bhutan; western China; Southeast Asia, and Indonesia.


Habitat: Serows live in mountain forests between 6,000 and 10,000 feet (1,830 to 3,040 meters) altitude.


Diet: Eats a variety of grasses, shoots, and leaves. Does not migrate or move far in its feeding.


Behavior and reproduction: This goat-like bovid lives alone or in

groups of up to seven individuals. They rest below rock overhangs and cliffs during the day, and have been known to swim between islands off the coast of Malaysia. Moves along well-trodden paths.

Gestation lasts for seven to eight months, with a single baby being born in September or October. Life span is about ten years.


Serow and people: Hunted for meat and body parts used in medicine.


Conservation status: Listed as Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction, by IUCN, primarily due to poaching (illegal hunting) and habitat loss. ∎

BIGHORN SHEEP (Ovis canadensis): SPECIES ACCOUNTS

Physical characteristics: The maximum weight in males is 300 pounds (137 kilograms), 200 pounds (91 kilograms) in females. They measure 49 to 77 inches (124 to 195 centimeters) long, with females being smaller. Males have huge horns curling round and forward. Females' horns are much smaller and curl just a little. Coats range from reddish brown to almost black-brown with white undersides, rump, muzzle, and back of legs. They have excellent eyesight. Bighorns vocalize during mating season and when in danger.


Geographic range: Bighorn sheep are found in western North America south to desert ranges of the southwest United States and Mexico.

Habitat: Bighorns live in deserts, but prefer mountain meadows, rocky cliffs, and mountains. They prefer regions where annual snowfall does not exceed 60 inches (152 centimeters) because they aren't able to paw through snow with their cloven (split) hooves.


Diet: Bighorns eat grasses, herbs, and shrubs. Those that live in the desert eat desert plants.


Behavior and reproduction: Bighorns live in small hers of two to nine, with mature males staying separate from the herd. They migrate to higher elevations in the summer and to sheltered valleys during the cold months.

Though males won't defend territories, they will fight each other over a female. Bighorns jump from ledge to ledge with ease and are able to climb mountains at a rate of 15 miles per hour (24.1 kilometers per hour). On level ground, they move at a rate of 30 miles per hour (48.3 kilometers per hour). They are capable swimmers.

These polygamous bovids mate in the fall. Gestation lasts 150 to 180 days and results in the birth of one or two lambs. Offspring are protected by their mothers for several months. Females are ready to mate at thirty months, males between seven and eight years. Life span in the wild averages ten years, but can reach twenty. Coyotes and mountain lions are primary predators.


Bighorn sheep and people: Prized for its majestic horns, the bighorn is hunted as a trophy as well as for meat.


Conservation status: Though population numbers are lower than they were in the nineteenth century, they are stable, and the species is not considered threatened. ∎

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Books:

Geist, Val. Buffalo Nation: History and Legend of the North American Bison. Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press, 2002.

Lott, Dale F. American Bison: A Natural History. Berkely, CA: University of California Press, 2003.

Nowak, Ronald M. "Antelopes, Cattle, Bison, bBuffalo, Goats, and Sheep." Walker's Mammals of the World Online 5.1. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997. http://www.press.jhu.edu/books/walkers_mammals_of_the_world/artiodactyla/artiodactyla.bovidae.html (accessed on June 7, 2004).

Robbins, Ken. Thunder on the Plains: The Story of the American Buffalo. New York: Atheneum, 2001.

Periodicals:

Mills, James Edward. "Wisconsin Bison are Plentiful and Popular." Wisconsin State Journal (June 5, 2004).

Web sites:

"American Bison." NatureWorks. http://www.nhptv.org/natureworks/americanbison.htm (accessed on June 7, 2004).

"Bighorn Sheep." Desert USA. http://www.desertusa.com/big.html (accessed on June 7, 2004).

"Black Wildebeest." Singapore Zoological Gardens-Docent. (accessed on June 7, 2004).

Fox, D., and P. Myers "Bovidae." Animal Diversity Web. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Bovidae.html (accessed on June 7, 2004).

"Wildlives: African Animals: Dikdiks." African Wildlife Foundation. http://www.awf.org/wildlives/67 (accessed on June 7, 2004).

"Wildlives: African Animals: Thomson's Gazelle." African Wildlife Foundation. http://www.awf.org/wildlives/156 (accessed on June 7, 2004).