Parts of Africa, Asia, and Southeast Asian islands; eastern Europe; and North America


Islands, prairies and steppes, rain forests, wetlands, savannas, temperate forests and taiga

Horns aplenty

Wild cattle are larger members of the Bovidae family, a scientific grouping that also includes antelope, goats, and sheep. They include Asian water buffalo, African or Cape buffalo, bantengs, gaurs, yaks, bison, and all domestic cattle.

Both male and female wild cattle species have horns, but the bull’s (male) horns are much larger and thicker than the cow’s (female). 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 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.

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 dense forests.
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, a species that died out in the 1600s.
The Cape or African buffalo has a bad temper and won’t hesitate to fight. It defends its territory and herd at all costs, killing lions, leopards, hyenas, and even humans, if needed. Many consider it to be the most dangerous mammal in Africa.

The San Diego Zoo has lowland anoa and forest buffalo. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park has herds of Indian gaur, Javan banteng, and Cape buffalo in our large field exhibits. They can be seen from the Africa Tram Safari or Caravan Safari.

Wild cattle species are becoming more rare, although they 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 out 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: domestic cattle are sharing the same grazing space and breeding with the wild species, thus reducing the numbers of pure-bred cattle. Tamaraw Bubalus mindorensis and kouprey Bos sauveli are at critical risk; lowland anoas Bubalus depressicornis, mountain anoas Bubalus quarlesi, Asian water buffalo Bubalus bubalis, bantengs Bos javanicus, gaurs Bos gaurus, and wisent or European bison Bison bonasus are endangered.

You can help us bring wild cattle species back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.