When people think of cattle, they usually think of taurine cattle, because they are widely distributed around the world on farms and dairies. The other species of domesticated cattle, the zebu, is found in parts of Southeast Asia and Africa. Especially in Europe and the Americas, people are often unaware that an entirely separate species of domesticated cattle exists in the world, because they are so familiar with taurine cattle.
Both taurine cattle and zebus are derived from aurochs, wild cattle which once roamed Europe and Asia. Evidence suggests that both species also developed in India, and that taurine cattle were probably further refined in Europe. Taurine cattle are bred for both milk and meat, and sometimes they are used as draft animals as well, although this is relatively unusual. They vary widely in size and body structure, with some taurine cattle being lean and angular, while others are plump and rounded, reflecting the different uses for which they are developed.
There is some dispute over the scientific name for taurine cattle. Originally, Bos taurus was used, while aurochs were known as Bos primigenius and zebu as Bos indicus. However, investigation of these animals has suggested that they may actually all be in the same species, Bos primigenius, with aurochs, zebu, and taurine cattle being different subspecies, in which case taurine cattle should be known as Bos primigenius taurus. This differentiation may seem petty, but it is important, because it reflects the genetic heritage of these cattle.
Domesticated cattle have been raised in Europe for centuries, and a number of very distinct breeds have been developed, from gentle Jerseys for milking to hefty Angus for beef. Historically, ownership of cattle was often a sign of wealth, because taurine cattle require a lot of resources to be supported, unlike sheep and goats. Taurine cattle are also more delicate than zebus, and they tend to be more susceptible to stress, disease, drought, and poor food conditions.
Even today, ownership of cattle and consumption of cattle products is a status symbol in many regions of the world. Among conservationists, this has been a cause of some concern, because cattle can be very hard on the environment, especially when native forests are cleared to make way for cattle. Some biologists are also concerned about the increasing homogeneity of taurine cattle breeds, warning that some rare, unusual, and special cattle breeds could be lost forever without intervention.