Cattle, banteng and yak



Himachal Pradesh 2007
Wait for me! – Bringing home her family’s cows shortly before dusk, this girl holds on to a cow’s tail. Usually, cattle owners in the Himalaya do not let their animals graze out at night for fear of attacks from wolves or bears. – Kaza, Spiti, Himachal Pradesh, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Archaeological evidence indicates that cattle were first domesticated from the wild aurochs (Bos primigenius) in south-eastern Turkey, app. 10,500 years ago. Traditionally, cattle were classified as belonging to three separate species: the European taurine cattle (Bos taurus), the Asian zebu (Bos indicus), and the extinct aurochs, which lived in parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa. DNA research has shown that the aurochs is ancestral to both zebu and taurine cattle, re-classifying the previous three species as belonging to one species, Bos taurus, with three subspecies: taurine cattle (B. t. taurus), aurochs (B. t. primigenius), and zebu (B. t. indicus).

Further complicating the matter is the ability of taurine cattle and zebu to interbreed – and sometimes have fertile offspring – with other closely related species, such as the yak (Bos grunniens), the gaur (Bos gaurus), and the banteng (Bos javanicus), as well as the two species of bison, the American Bos bison and the Eurasian Bos bonasus.

Originally, cattle were utilized as food, and later people learned to appreciate their milk. As early as the 4th Century B.C., the wheel was invented in the Middle East, and the first carts were probably drawn by cattle. Today, ox carts, or bullock carts, are still seen in some Asiatic and Latin American countries, most often pulled by oxen, or bullocks – castrated bulls, which are easier to control than uncastrated bulls. At an early stage, oxen were also utilized to pull the plough, and to work on bucket chains, or pot garlands, which shovel up water from wells, leading it into irrigation canals.

In former times, the wild banteng, or tembadau, was distributed from eastern India, across Southeast Asia to the islands of Borneo and Java. This species has declined drastically, and today the total population of wild banteng may be as low as 5,000, its most important strongholds being on Java. Banteng was domesticated at an early stage, and today the total population of domesticated animals is around 1.5 million, found mainly on Java and Bali. It has also been introduced to northern Australia, where feral populations constitute a threat to the local ecology.

The yak is a high-altitude species, which used to roam the Central Asian highlands in large numbers. It is adapted to a life in this harsh environment, having a luxurious fur, which keeps it warm in temperatures below -30o Centigrade. (A legend regarding this thick fur is related elsewhere on this website, see Animals: Why the water buffalo has so little hair). The yak was domesticated by nomadic tribes as early as c. 5000 B.C. Today, the population of domesticated yak is estimated at 14 million, the vast majority found in Chinese territories. The population of wild yak may be fewer than 15,000, and although it is legally protected, illegal hunting still takes place and may threaten it with extinction.



Asien 1972-73
Archaeological evidence indicates that cattle were first domesticated in south-eastern Turkey, app. 10,500 years ago. – Ox-cart and horse rider, near Kopdagi Pass, eastern Turkey. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Nordindien 1982
To the ancient Asian animists, the ox was a sacred animal, often presented as an offering to gods or spirits. Today, there are still traces of this ancient practice, e.g. in Ladakh, where horns of cows, yaks, and wild sheep are placed as offerings on stone cairns. The horns and stones are often painted red, called Lato Marpo (‘Red Gods’), the red dye probably symbolizing blood from sacrificed cattle. This cairn with a small yak skull was photographed in the Markha Valley, Ladakh. – More about animism is found on this website, see Religion. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Egypten 1999
Wall painting from 15th Century B.C., depicting gifts for the Egyptian Pharaoh: A cow and various birds. – Djeser-Djeseru, or the Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, Deir el-Bahari, Luxor, Egypt. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Egypten 1999
Relief from 12th Century B.C., depicting an enormous zebu bull, Death Temple of Ramesses III, Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Egypt. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



USA 2012a
In images of the Christian evangelist Saint Luke, he is often accompanied by – or sometimes represented by – a winged ox. – Stain-glass window in St. Dominic’s Church, Oyster Bay, Long Island, United States. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Cambodia 2010
The powerful Hindu-Buddhist Khmer Empire ruled in what is today Cambodia, between the 9th and the 15th Centuries A.D. The Khmer left a superb legacy in the form of the Angkor Ruins. This relief in the Bayon, Angkor Thom, depicts an army on the march, with a cart, pulled by a zebu ox. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Cambodia 2010
In Hindu mythology, the mount of the powerful god Shiva is a bull, named Nandi. – Khmer sculpture, Bayon, Angkor Thom, Cambodia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Sydindien 1997-98
This huge sculpture of Nandi was carved from a single block of granite in 1659. – Chamundi Hill, Mysore, Karnataka, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Annapurna 2007
To Vaishnavites (followers of Hindu god Vishnu), the Muktinath Temple in Jhong River Valley, Mustang, central Nepal, is a most sacred site. In the ancient Hindu epic Mahabharata, this place is called Salagrama, named after the fossilized ammonites (saligram in Hindi) – a group of extinct squid-like animals, which are often found in the river beds of this area, embedded in rocks. The spiral form of these ammonites causes Vaishnavites to regard them as sacred symbols of Vishnu’s chakra (disc). Since ancient times, Muktinath has housed a temple for Vishnu. From the barren landscape here, a sacred spring wells forth, its waters being channelled into the temple, where it is divided into 108 fountains, 105 of which are shaped like a cow’s head, the remaining three like a mythical, elephant-like creature. For devout Vaishnavites, a bath in these sacred waters will cause mukti (salvation) after death. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Fanø 2001-12
Cow with its newly born calf, Fanø, Denmark. The gestation period of cattle is c. 283 days, i.e. roughly the same as humans. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Alperne 1968-2001
Dairy cows, grazing on the extensive meadows of the Alps, are often adorned with bells, making it easy for the owner to find them at milking times. – Säntis, Sankt Gallen, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Tanzania 1990
Cattle farm in evening light, Narunyu, southern Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Østafrika 1994-95
The Ankole cattle is an African breed of cattle, characterized by their huge horns. – Mubende, Uganda. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Bornholm 2008a
Highland cattle originated in Scotland, first mentioned in the 6th century A.D. They have rather long horns and a long coat, which is mostly reddish, but may also be black, yellow, or white. This type of cattle has become very popular in many parts of the world, as they can be outdoors year-round. – This picture is from Bornholm, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Alperne 2016a
Alperne 2016a
During a music festival in the village of Prägraten, Virgental, Tyrol, Austria, this orchestra passed by a field with grazing cattle, which were initially seized by panic (top). Their curiosity, however, soon overcame their fear. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Sydindien 1997-98
Zebu cattle originated in Asia and is today a very common sight in India, Pakistan, and Myanmar. It is also quite popular in other tropical regions of the world, as it is more resistant to disease than European cattle. It is characterized by a hump on its shoulder and a large dewlap. – During the Hindu festival of Pongal, or Sankranti, which marks the beginning of the harvest, cows are fed with pongal (a mixture of rice, sugar, lentils and milk), after which they are washed and decorated with turmeric powder, and their horns and hooves are painted. – Mysore, Karnataka, South India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Nordindien 1985-86
At an early stage, people learned to appreciate cow milk. Late in the afternoon, this woman in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India, is milking her zebu cow. The calf is waiting to get its share of the milk. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Myanmar 2007
The ox cart was probably invented in the Middle East around the 4th Century B.C. – Bagan, Myanmar. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Sydindien 2000-01
These zebu oxen appear like midgets beneath a huge load of straw, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, South India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Cambodia 2009
Still today, ploughing with oxen, or bullocks (castrated bulls), takes place in many parts of Asia. This man near Pre Rup, western Cambodia, is ploughing his paddy field with the help of zebu oxen. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Nepal 1998
In many parts of the Himalaya, ploughing on the narrow, terraced fields is done with the help of small, agile oxen. This picture is from the Modi Khola Valley, Annapurna, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Nordindien 1991 
Today, bucket chains, or pot garlands, which shovel up water from wells, are a rare sight. This one, using clay pots, and driven by zebu oxen, was seen near Mount Abu, Rajasthan, India, in 1991. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Myanmar 2007
Ox-driven press to extract oil from peanuts, near Mount Popa, Myanmar. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Sydindien 2000-01
Shoeing a zebu ox, Kokkare Belur, near Mysore, Karnataka, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Myanmar 2007
Zebu cattle, swimming across the Ayeyarwadi (Irrawaddy) River, Bagan, Myanmar. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Indien 1994
Indien 1994
To Hindus, the cow is sacred, and nobody will kill a cow on purpose. After completing their working duties, cows are often released, roaming around in city streets and elsewhere. This zebu in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, is maybe considering to become a policeman, as it occupies the culvert, on which a policeman will usually direct the traffic (top). – For a number of years, this short-legged zebu bull was a part of the street life of the city of Jaipur, Rajasthan (bottom). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Bali 2015
On Bali, domesticated banteng are a common sight. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Indonesien 1985
Indonesien 1985
On the island of Madura, and elsewhere in Indonesia, banteng bulls are utilized for racing, pulling a kind of wooden sledge, on which the coach is standing. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Everest 2010
The yak has a luxurious fur, which keeps it warm in temperatures below -30o Centigrade. Its Latin name, Bos grunniens (‘the grunting ox’), is very descriptive, as it grunts incessantly. This picture shows female yaks, called nak, with calves, Dingboche, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Everest 2010a
At high altitudes in the Himalaya, yaks burdened with bulky loads are commonly encountered. – Gokyo Valley, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Nepal 2013
The nak yields excellent milk. In this picture, a nak is being milked in the Upper Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Tibet 2004
This yak skull has been placed as an offering near mani stones (slabs with carved Buddhist mantras) on the kora, or pilgrim route, around Tashilhunpo Monastery, Shigatse, Tibet. Note that mantras have also been carved into the skull. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Everest 2010
A dzopkio is a crossbreed between a yak and a cow. At lower altitudes in the Himalaya, it replaces the yak for transportation, as yaks do not thrive below 3,000 metres. Searching for food, this dzopkio is walking past a mani-stone with carved Buddhist mantras, near the village of Ghat, Khumbu, Nepal. After a long day’s work, dzopkios and yaks are often released in the forest to graze. Whatever they can find of wild foods is supplied with hay, bought by the owner from local farmers. The plant to the left is Sikkim spurge (Euphorbia sikkimensis), which is avoided by grazing animals, as it is toxic. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Sydspanien 2005
A special kind of utilization of cattle is bull fighting. The first recorded bullfight may be the Epic of Gilgamesh, in which Gilgamesh and Enkidu fought and killed the Bull of Heaven: “The bull seemed indestructible, for hours they fought, till Gilgamesh, dancing in front of the bull, lured it with his tunic and bright weapons, and Enkidu thrust his sword deep into the bull’s neck, and killed it.” (Source: T. Ziolkowski, 2011. Gilgamesh among us: Modern Encounters with the Ancient Epic. Cornell University Press). – This picture is from Sevilla, Andalusia, Spain. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



(Uploaded September 2017)