BOVIDAE, the name of the family of hollow-horned ruminant mammals typified by the common ox (Bos taurus), and specially characterized by the presence on the skulls of the males or of both sexes of a pair of bony projections, or cores, covered in life with hollow sheaths of horn, which are never branched, and at all events after a very early stage of existence are permanently retained. From this, which is alone sufficient for diagnostic purposes, the group is often called the Cavicornia. For other characteristics see Pecora. The Bovidae comprise a great number of genera and species, and include the oxen, sheep, goats, antelopes and certain other kinds which come under neither of these designations. In stature they range from the size of a hare to that of a rhinoceros; and their horns vary in size and shape from the small and simple spikes of the oribi and duiker antlers to the enormous and variously shaped structures borne respectively by buffaloes, wild sheep and kudu and other large antelopes. In geographical distribution the Bovidae present a remarkable contrast to the deer tribe, or Cervidae. Both of these families are distributed over the whole of the northern hemisphere, but whereas the Cervidae are absent from Africa south of the Sahara and well represented in South America, the Bovidae are unknown in the latter area, but are extraordinarily abundant in Africa. Neither group is represented in Australasia; Celebes being the eastern limit of the Bovidae. The present family doubtless originated in the northern half of the Old World, whence it effected an entrance by way of the Bering Strait route into North America, where it has always been but poorly represented in the matter of genera and species.
The Bovidae are divided into a number of sections, or subfamilies, each of which is briefly noticed in the present article, while fuller mention of some of the more important representatives of these is made in other articles.
The first section is that of the Bovinae, which includes buffaloes, bison and oxen. The majority of these are large and heavily-built ruminants, with horns present in both sexes, the muzzle broad, moist and naked, the nostrils lateral, no face-glands, and a large dewlap often developed in the males; while the tail is long and generally tufted, although in one instance long-haired throughout. The horns are of nearly equal size in both sexes, are placed on or near the vertex of the skull, and may be either rounded or angulated, while their direction is more or less outwards, with an upward direction near the tips, and conspicuous knobs or ridges are never developed on their surface. The tall upper molars have inner columns. The group is represented throughout the Old World as far east as Celebes, and has one living North American representative. All the species may be included in the genus Bos, with several subgeneric divisions (see Anoa, Aurochs, Bantin, Bison, Buffalo, Gaur, Gayal, Ox and Yak).
The second group, or Caprinae, includes the sheep and goats, which are smaller animals than most of the Bovidae, generally with horns in both sexes, but those of the females small. In the males the horns are usually compressed and triangular, with transverse ridges or knobs, and either curving backwards or spiral. The muzzle is narrow and hairy; and when face-glands are present these are small and insignificant; while the tail is short and flattened. Unlike the Bovinae, there are frequently glands in the feet; and the upper molar teeth differ from those of that group in their narrower crowns, which lack a distinct inner column. When a face-pit is present in the skull it is small. The genera are Ovis (sheep), Capra (goats) and Hemitragus (tahr). Sheep and goats are very nearly related, but the former never have a beard on the chin of the males, which are devoid of a strong odour; and their horns are typically of a different type. There are, however, several more or less transitional forms. Tahr are short-horned goats. The group is unknown in America, and in Africa is only represented in the mountains of the north, extending, however, some distance south into the Sudan and Abyssinia. All the species are mountain-dwellers. (See Udad, Argali, Goat, Ibex, Mouflon, Sheep and Tahr.)
The musk-ox (Ovibos moschatus) alone represents the family Ovibovinae, which is probably most nearly related to the next group (see Musk-ox).
Next come the Rupicaprinae, which include several genera of mountain-dwelling ruminants, typified by the European chamois (Rupicapra); the other genera being the Asiatic serow, goral and takin, and the North American Rocky Mountain goat. These ruminants are best described as goat-like antelopes. (See Antelope, Chamois, Goral, Rocky Mountain Goat, Serow and Takin.)
Under the indefinable term “antelope” (q.v.) may be included the seven remaining sections, namely Tragelaphinae (kudu and eland), Hippotraginae (sable antelope and oryx), Antilopinae (black-buck, gazelles, &c.), Cervicaprinae (reedbuck and waterbuck), Neotraginae (klipspringer and steinbok), Cephalophinae (duikers and four-horned antelopes) and Bubalinae (hartebeests and gnus). (R. L.*)