Zebus (Bos primigenius indicus), sometimes known as 'humped cattle' or 'indicus' cattle, are a type of cattle better-adapted to tropical environments than the other domestic cattle, the Bos primigenius taurus or 'taurine' types. The scientific name of zebu cattle was originally Bos indicus, but this name is now deemed invalid by ITIS, who classify the zebu under Bos primigenius along with all other domestic cattle and their extinct aurochs ancestors. However, domestic cattle are sometimes regarded as a separate species to the aurochs, in which case Zebu are known as Bos taurus indicus.
Zebu cattle are thought to be derived from the Asian subspecies of aurochs Bos primigenius namadicus. Another wild cattle species, the gaur (Bos gaurus) may also have contributed to their development. Probably the first species to vanish from the Indian wilderness, the wild zebu disappeared during the time of the Indus Valley Civilization from its range in the Indus basin and other spots of Pakistan, possibly due to inter-breeding with domestic cattle and resultant fragmentation of wild populations due to loss of habitat.
There are some 75 known breeds of zebu, split about evenly between African breeds and South Asian ones. The major Zebu cattle breeds of the world include Gir, Guzerat, Kankrej, Indo-Brazilian, Brahman, Nelore, Ongole, Sahiwal, Red Sindhi, Butana, Kenana, Boran, Baggara, Tharparker, Kangeyam, Chinese Southern Yellow and Philippine Native. The Sanga cattle breeds originated from hybridization of Zebu with indigenous humpless cattle in Africa; they include the Afrikaner, Red Fulani, Ankole-Watusi, and many other breeds of central and southern Africa. Sanga cattle can be distinguished from pure Zebu by having smaller humps located farther forward on the animals.
Zebu have humps on the shoulders, large dewlaps and droopy ears. They have more sweat glands than taurine cattle, and have pest resistances not seen in European cattle.
Because they were better adapted to hot environments, zebus were imported to Africa for hundreds of years and interbred with taurine cattle there. Genetic analysis of African cattle has found higher concentrations of zebu genes all along the east coast of Africa, and especially pure cattle on the island of Madagascar, implying that the method of dispersal was cattle transported by ship. Partial resistance to rinderpest led to another increase in the frequency of zebus in Africa.
Zebu were imported into Brazil in the early twentieth century and crossbred to Charolais cattle, a European taurine breed. The resulting breed, which consists of 5/8 Charolais and 3/8 Zebu, is called the Chanchim. It has a better meat quality than the zebu as well as better heat resistance than European cattle. The zebu breeds used were primarily Indo-Brazilian with some Nelore and Guzerat.
Many breeds are complex mixtures of the zebu and various taurine types, and some also have yak, gaur or banteng genetics. While zebu are the common cattle in much of Asia, the cattle of Japan, Korea and Mongolia are taurine (although possibly domesticated separately from the other taurine cattle originating from Europe and Africa). Other species of cattle domesticated in parts of Asia include yak, gaur, banteng and water buffalo.
In 1999, researchers at Texas A&M University successfully cloned a zebu
Zebu were mentioned in the Silly Songs with Larry tune "The Song of the Cebú". Larry the Cucumber defines a cebú as "kinda like a cow." At one point in the song, Larry says "...I think that's the bull's cousin. He's a cebú!" This is fairly accurate, as European cattle and zebu are members of the same species.
The Zebu is mentioned in a 1991 episode of The Simpsons, "Blood Feud," when Lisa teaches Maggie about more obscure animals, wanting to give Maggie "all the advantages that [she] didn't have." Lisa describes it as "an ox, only it has a hump and a dewlap."
In August 2007, a study by ITV television show Undercover Mothers found that a third of steaks served in Hungry Horse and two thirds served in Wetherspoon pubs in the UK were from Zebu or Zebu cross-breeds, as indicated by the presence of Zebu DNA markers in the meat (and not that the steaks were 67% zebu as reported in papers such as the Daily Mail). Welsh farm leaders claim Zebu meat is "notorious for its tough and poor eating quality.