Also known as the humped cattle or indicus cattle, the zebu are a type of cattle from South Asia. There are 75 different breeds of zebus, and they have been split up into African and South Asian breeds. The main zebu breeds include the Gir, Guzerat, Krankej, and more. There is also a hybrid zebu breed called a Sanga, which is a mix between an indigenous humpless African cattle.

A lucky zebu having a cowliday at the beach
A lucky zebu having a cowliday at the beach

As they are a bovine animal, they look pretty similar to any other cattle. However, their main characteristics include a fatty hump on their shoulders, a large dewlap, and drooping ears. Compared to taurine cattle, they have more sweat glands. They live comfortably in places with high temperatures and thus are farmed throughout tropical nations either as a zebu or a hybrid. They are often used as draught oxen, or for meat or dairy purposes. Their byproducts include hides and dung for fuel and manure.

The zebu were imported into Africa over many hundreds of years via ship, and they interbred with taurine cattle there. In the east coast of Africa, genetic analysis has found that that African cattle has a higher concentration of zebu genes, especially ‘pure’ cattle from Madagascar. This is a positive thing, as it has led to partial resistance to rinderpest.

A Zebu in Madagascar
A Zebu in Madagascar

In the early 20th century, zebus were imported into Brazil. In Brazil, they were cross-bred with Charolais cattle which is a European cattle breed. This hybrid which is 37% zebu and 63% charolais is called the chanchim. This hybrid cattle resulted in better meat quality and heat resistance.

Claims to Fame

  • In 1999, Texas A&M University Researchers successfully cloned a zebu.
  • Bulls of a zebu breed called Brahman are used for bullriding in rodeos.
  • In the popular cartoon series, The Simpsons, Lisa Simpson attempts to teach her baby sister, Maggie, what a zebu is in the episode called ‘Blood Fued’
  • In August 2007, it was reported by a ITV show called Undercover Mothers that a third of steaks that are served at Hungry Horse and two thirds served in Wetherspoon public houses in the UK were either zebu or zebu cross-breeds.

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