Essay

Are There Wild Cows?

There are wild pigs and horses all over the country, as well as wild horses on Assateague Island, but are there wild cows as well? Depending on the term you choose, yes.

The History of Cattle

The aurochs (Bos primigenius), an extinct bovine species that was tamed in the Fertile Crescent some 10,500 years ago, are the ancestors of modern cattle. Just 80 female aurochs are thought to be the ancestors of all cattle today. Wild aurochs were still present throughout Eurasia, Mesopotamia, and North Africa even after cattle were domesticated. Due to habitat degradation, killing, and disease from domesticated cattle, their populations gradually declined; the last known wild aurochs perished in Poland in 1627.

Since their domestication, cattle have been selectively bred for certain features, and they are now found on every continent with the exception of Antarctica. It was during Christopher Columbus’s second voyage to the Caribbean in 1493 when they were first brought to the Americas. There are more than 1,000 breeds of cattle in the world.

Cattle vs. Cows

Even though the word “cow” is frequently used to refer to animals, it actually refers to female cows who have started to milk. We refer to male cattle as steers or bulls. Heifers are female cows that have started breastfeeding but have not given birth. Calf refers to young cattle. Therefore, although though it’s common to refer to a bovine as a “cow” when you see one strolling through a field, this term actually only refers to nursing females. Despite this misconception, cows of both sexes are now frequently referred to by the same word.

Do Wild Cows Exist?

The Bovidae family includes domesticated cattle (Bos taurus), who have numerous extant wild relatives. There are relatives of the cow on several continents, including yaks, guars, water buffalo, and bison. There aren’t any real wild Bos taurus, though.

The guar is a close relative of the domestic cow (Bos gaurus).They are indigenous to South and Southeast Asia and are also referred to as Indian bison. Bovidae, the largest species in the wild, are these. The gayal (Bos frontalis), a domesticated form of the guar, is also widespread in the area, occurring in Bangladesh, Northeast India, Myanmar, and some areas of China.

Cows Running Wild

There are cattle running free even though there might not be wild cow populations! Numerous nations, including the US, Ecuador, Australia, New Zealand, and Samoa, have populations of feral cows.

“Feral cows” are defined by the U.S. Forest Service as cows without ear tags or branding, among other identifying characteristics. A herd of about 150 wild cattle outside Los Angeles is thought to have created new routes, destroyed a large amount of flora, and endangered hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail. About 2,000 cows live in the herd on Chirikof Island in the Alaskan Kodiak Archipelago. The question of whether they ought to be kicked off the island—which is a part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge—has been raised by them. Since a rancher left cattle in the Gila National Forest in New Mexico in the 1970s, some 150 feral cows have been causing problems.

Since cows are not indigenous to these regions, debates on whether or not to remove them in order to protect ecosystems rage on. In an effort to control the number, the U.S. Forest Service killed 19 feral cows in the Gila National Forest in 2023.

Making a Break For It

Naturally, there are also occasionally renegade cows who escape from domestic farms. In 2023, a cow named Punch was discovered wandering throughout downtown of metropolitan Cleveland. (Her owner was removed to a nearby refuge; her identity was never revealed.) The same year, a loose cow that had escaped from an abattoir transport vehicle was discovered strolling the streets of Brooklyn, New York, shocking the locals. (She was pardoned for her daring escape. She is currently residing in the New Jersey facility Skylands Animal Sanctuary.) Lester the steer gained notoriety after he ran away from his home at an animal refuge and down the highway, with a cowboy chasing after him with a rope.