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Miniature Zebu.jpg
Scientific classification OOjs UI icon edit-ltr.svg
(Disputed, [1] see § Taxonomy and name)
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Bovidae
Subfamily: Bovinae
Genus: Bos
B. i.
Trinomial name
Bos indicus
Synonyms [2] [3]

The zebu ( /ˈzb(j),ˈzb/ ; Bos indicus [4] ), sometimes known in the plural as indicine cattle, Camel cow or humped cattle, is a species or subspecies of domestic cattle originating in South Asia. [5] Zebu, like many Sanga cattle breeds, differs from taurine cattle by a fatty hump on their shoulders, a large dewlap, and sometimes drooping ears. They are well adapted to withstanding high temperatures and are farmed throughout the tropics.


Zebu are used as draught and riding animals, dairy cattle and beef cattle, as well as for byproducts such as hides and dung for fuel and manure. Some small breeds such as Nadudana also known as the miniature zebu [6] are also kept as pets. [7]

In some regions, zebu have significant religious meaning.


Both scientific names Bos taurus and Bos indicus were introduced by Carl Linnaeus in 1758, with the latter used to describe humped cattle in China. [3]

The zebu was classified as a distinct species by Juliet Clutton-Brock in 1999, [8] but as a subspecies of the domestic cattle, Bos taurus indicus, by both Clutton-Brock and Colin Groves in 2004 [9] and by Peter Grubb in 2005. [10] In 2011, Groves and Grubb classified it as a distinct species again. [11] [ failed verification ]

The American Society of Mammalogists considers it part of the species Bos taurus in analogy to Sanga cattle (Bos taurus africanus Kerr, 1792). [2] The International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature has not yet published a ruling on the classification of domestic derivatives and no scientific body advocates the abolition of the Biological Species Concept for domestic animals.

Currently (2024s), it is not correct to describe Zebu animals as Bos taurus indicus, but rather as Bos indicus, [4] because they are a different species from Bos taurus.


A Pillar of Ashoka, dating to the 3rd century BCE, depicting a zebu GODL Rampurva bull in profile.jpg
A Pillar of Ashoka, dating to the 3rd century BCE, depicting a zebu
Zebu pictured on a coin of the Indo-Scythian king Azes II, late first century BC Coin of Azes II LACMA M.84.110.8 (2 of 2).jpg
Zebu pictured on a coin of the Indo-Scythian king Azes II, late first century BC

Zebu cattle were found to derive from the Indian form of aurochs and have first been domesticated between 7,000 and 6,000 YBP at Mehrgarh, present-day Pakistan, by people linked to or coming from Mesopotamia. [12] [13] [14] [15]

Its wild ancestor, the Indian aurochs, became extinct during the Indus Valley civilisation likely due to habitat loss, caused by expanding pastoralism and interbreeding with domestic zebu. [5] [16] Its latest remains ever found were dated to 3,800 YBP, making it the first of the three aurochs subspecies to die out. [17] [18]

Archaeological evidence including depictions on pottery and rocks suggests that humped cattle likely imported from the Near East was present in Egypt around 4,000 YBP. Its first appearance in the Subsahara is dated to after 700 AD and it was introduced to the Horn of Africa around 1000. [19]

Phylogenetic analysis revealed that all the zebu Y chromosome haplotype groups are found in three different lineages: Y3A, the most predominant and cosmopolitan lineage; Y3B, only observed in West Africa; and Y3C, predominant in south and northeast India. [20]


Female zebu in Sri Lanka Female zebu cattle.JPG
Female zebu in Sri Lanka

Zebu, but also many Sanga cattle have humps on the shoulders, large dewlaps and droopy ears. [21]

Compared to taurine cattle, the zebu is well adapted to the hot tropical savanna climate and steppe environments. These adaptations result in higher tolerance for drought, heat and sunlight exposure. [22]

Behaviour and ecology

Studies on the natural weaning of zebu cattle have shown that cows wean their calves over a 2-week period, but after that, continue to show strong affiliatory behavior with their offspring and preferentially choose them for grooming and as grazing partners for at least 4–5 years. [23]


Zebu are generally mature enough to give birth when they are 29 months old. This is based on the development of their bodies to withstand the strain of carrying the calf and lactation. Early reproduction can place too much stress on the body and possibly shorten lifespans. The gestation period averages 285 days, but varies depending on the age and nutrition of the mother. The sex of the calf may also affect the carrying time, as male calves are carried for a longer period than females. Location, breed, body weight, and season affect the overall health of the animal and in return may also affect the gestation period. [22]

Health and diseases

The zebu is susceptible to nagana as it does not exhibit trypanotolerance. [24] [25] It is said to be resilient to parasites. [26]

Breeds and hybrids

Zebu are very common in much of Asia, including Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh and China. In Asia, taurine cattle are mainly found in the northern regions such as Japan, Korea, northern China and Mongolia. In China, taurine cattle are most common in northern breeds, zebu more common in southern breeds, with hybrids in between. [27] [28]

Zebu market in Madagascar Zebus de Madagascar 02.jpg
Zebu market in Madagascar

Geneticists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, Kenya and in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia discovered that cattle had been domesticated in Africa independently of domestication in the Near East. They concluded that the southern African cattle populations derive originally from East Africa rather than from a southbound migration of taurine cattle. [29] The results are inconclusive as to whether domestication occurred first in Africa or the Near East. [30]

Sanga cattle breeds is considered to have originated from hybridization of zebu with taurine cattle [31] leading to the Afrikaner, Red Fulani, Ankole, Boran and many other breeds.

Some 75 breeds of zebu are known, split about evenly between African and Indian breeds.

List of widely distributed zebu breeds
Gyr [32] |Kankrej and Guzerat [33] |Indo-Brazilian [34] |Brahman [35] |Sibi Bhagnari [36] |White Nukra [37] |Cholistani [38] |Dhanni [39] |Lohani [40] |Nelore |Ongole [41] |Sahiwal [42] |Red Sindhi [43] |Butana and Kenana [44] |Baggara [45] |Tharparkar [46] |Kangayam [47] |Southern Yellow [48] |Kedah Kelantan [49] |Local Indian Diary [50]
Hariana breed of zebu type cattle in north India Hariana 02.JPG
Hariana breed of zebu type cattle in north India

Other breeds of zebu are quite local, like the Hariana from Haryana, Punjab [51] or the Rath from Alwar district, Rajasthan. [52]

Zebu, which are adapted to high temperatures, [53] were imported into Brazil in the early 20th century. Their importation marked a change in cattle ranching in Brazil as they were considered "ecological" since they could graze on natural grasses[Is there a ruminant that can't? clarification needed ] and their meat was lean and without chemical residues.[ definition needed ] [54]

In the early 20th century in Brazil, Zebu were crossbred with Charolais cattle, a European taurine breed. The resulting breed, 63% Charolais and 37% zebu, is called the Canchim. It has a better meat quality than the zebu and better heat resistance than European cattle. The zebu breeds used were primarily Indo-Brazilian with some Nelore and Guzerat. Another Charolais cross-breed with Brahmans is called Australian Charbray and is recognised as a breed in some countries.

From the 1960s onwards, Nelore which is an off breed of Ongole Cattle became the primary breed of cattle in Brazil because of its hardiness, heat-resistance, and because it thrives on poor-quality forage and breeds easily, with the calves rarely requiring human intervention to survive. Currently more than 80% of beef cattle in Brazil (approximately 167,000,000 animals) are either purebred or hybrid Ongole Cattle which is originated from Ongle region of Andhra Pradesh.


Draft zebu pulling a cart in Mumbai, India India.Mumbai.04.jpg
Draft zebu pulling a cart in Mumbai, India
A villager with a decorated bull during Pongal festival A day in the life of a rural 03.jpg
A villager with a decorated bull during Pongal festival

Zebu are used as draught and riding animals, beef cattle, dairy cattle, as well as for byproducts such as hides, dung for fuel and manure, and horn for knife handles and the like. Zebu, mostly miniature zebu, are kept as pets. [55] In India, the number of draft cattle in 1998 was estimated at 65.7 million head. [56] Zebu cows commonly have low production of milk. They do not produce milk until maturation later in their lives and do not produce much. When zebus are crossed with taurine cattle, milk production generally increases. [22]

In Madagascar, zebu outnumber people, and there are an "astonishing" 6,813 Malagasy proverbs, common sayings, and expressions referring to zebu in parlance on the island. [57] Zebu are wrestled by young men in a competitive ritual of courtship called tolon'omby . [57] [58]

In 1999, researchers at Texas A&M University successfully cloned a zebu. [59]

Hindu tradition

Zebu are venerated in Hinduism of India. In the historical Vedic religion they were a symbol of plenty. [60] :130 In later times they gradually acquired their present status. According to the Mahabharata , they are to be treated with the same respect 'as one's mother'. [61] In the middle of the first millennium, the consumption of beef began to be disfavoured by lawgivers. [60] :144

Milk and milk products were used in Vedic rituals. [60] :130 In the postvedic period products like milk, curd, ghee, but also cow dung and urine gomutra, or the combination of these five panchagavya began to assume an increasingly important role in ritual purification and expiation. [60] :130–131

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Aurochs</span> Extinct species of large cattle that inhabited Asia, Europe and Northern Africa

The aurochs is an extinct cattle species, considered to be the wild ancestor of modern domestic cattle. With a shoulder height of up to 180 cm (71 in) in bulls and 155 cm (61 in) in cows, it was one of the largest herbivores in the Holocene; it had massive elongated and broad horns that reached 80 cm (31 in) in length.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bovinae</span> Subfamily of mammals

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<i>Bos</i> Genus of wild and domestic cattle

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Yak</span> Long-haired domesticated bovid

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nguni cattle</span> Breed of cattle

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gayal</span> Species of domestic cattle

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bovid hybrid</span> Crossbreeds in the bovid family

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Boran cattle</span> Breed of cattle

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sahiwal cattle</span> Cattle breed

Sahiwal cattle is a breed of Indian zebu cow, named after the Sahiwal district of modern-day Pakistan.. The cattle is mainly found in Punjab province of Pakistan, and Indian states of Punjab, Haryana, & Rajasthan.

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