Cows or domestic cattle are one of the most numerous animals on earth. In fact, there are currently an estimated 1 billion cows, a number which has remained mostly stable for the last decade.
Cattle, like dogs and domestic cats, all descend from domesticated wild animals. In fact, all cows descend from an estimated 80-200 wild aurochs tamed over 10,000 years ago.
Today, cattle are a crucial part of human life, contributing to food (dairy products, meat), fertilizer, leather (clothing, furniture, other leather goods), and even biofuel production.
Plus, with a presence on every continent except Antarctica, they’re one of the most widespread animals on earth.
Still, there are plenty of other animals like cows. In fact, the bovinae consists of animals so closely related to cows that you won’t always be able to tell the difference.
Scientific name (genus): Bison
In short: Bison are hollow-horned and cow-like, sharing most traits with cows – but have a shaggy ruff and a hump on their back.
Bison, commonly known as buffalo in the United States, is a genus of bovines closely related to cows. Both surviving species are the largest surviving land mammals in North America and Europe.
In fact, the American Bison can reach weights of over 2,800 pounds. As large as that sounds, domestic cattle, which are specifically bred for size, can be much larger, with Texas longhorns sometimes reaching weights of over 4,000 pounds.
Otherwise, bison share all characteristics with cows. In fact, they’re so closely related that they can interbreed, although males are sterile. In fact, the “beefalo” is a cross between bison and the domestic cow.
Today, bison are protected in the United States, Canada, and in Europe. However, they’re also farmed and raised for meat, fur, and for entertainment in zoos and petting zoos.
Scientific name: Bos frontalis
In short: Gayals are large domesticated cattle in the same genus as the cow. Like the cow, they’re a separate species fully domesticated from a still-living wild bovinae.
Gayals are domestic cattle kept in multiple parts of India, primarily in the hills. Here, these ridge-backed cattle are kept for meat. Unlike domestic cattle, gayals are never milked or put to work and are instead kept semi-wild and left out to graze.
In addition, while gayals are domesticated from the Gaur, they’re an ancient cross-breed between the Gaur and another domestic cow, although it’s not known which.
This means that the Gayal is similar to the larger gaur, but has different horns, a broader head, and more color patterns.
Gayals also have sharp, ridged spines that stand up well above the neck. Their faces are flat, and their horns are more like those of buffalo than those of domestic cows.
Otherwise, they look very similar to many stocky breeds of cattle.
Scientific name: Bos gaurus
In short: Gaur is the largest species of wild cattle, often standing over 6 feet tall at the shoulders and over 10 feet long, but otherwise look like cows.
Gaurs are a wild species of cattle native to the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia.
Like other Bos species, they are difficult to tell from cows – although they have a pronounced ridge above the shoulders. In fact, this ridge can extend close to 5 inches higher than the rump, giving gaur a noticeable hump.
Gaurs also have a broad, fat heads with sideways pointing horns – much like the American bison. Like bisons, they use those horns to charge and headbutt and sometimes lock horns.
Gaurs are also a protected species, as there are less than 20,000 left in the wild. Gaurs also live up to 30 years, sometimes 10 years longer than domestic cattle.
Scientific name: Bos mutus / Bos grunniens
In short: Yaks resemble long-haired cattle, with similar horns to the modern, domestic cow. However, with shaggy underbellies and stockier bodies, they can look markedly different.
Yaks include two species: Bos mutus (wild Yaks) and Bos grunniens (domesticated yaks).
Both are under the same category here because the two are often considered subspecies of the same species, as there are few differences between the two other than disposition.
All Yaks are native to the Himalayas, where they form an important part of life and economics in Yunnan, Sichuan, Kashmir, Mongolia, and Tibet.
Like domestic cows, yaks are relied on for milk, hides, and meat. In addition, Yaks provide wool, which is used for garments and blankets.
Unlike domestic cows, Yaks are also used for transportation, with yak riding and racing common in isolated villages and areas.
Yaks can also interbreed with cattle, with hybrids like the Dzo becoming popular in lowland areas. However, because they aren’t the same species, males of this crossbreed are sterile.
Scientific name: Bos indicus
In short: The zebu or humped cattle is a domestic cattle closely related to the cow but with longer ears.
Zebus are domestic cattle with a shoulder hump and long pointed or drooping ears. In most cases, they look exactly like short-horned cattle, but have a pronounced hump.
Like domestic cows, they come in a variety of sizes, colors, and with different horns, with some varying wildly between siblings.
Zebus also have loose skin around the neck and chest, which is used to get rid of heat. That makes the zebu well-adapted to tropical and desert countries.
For this reason, Zebus are frequently interbred with domestic cattle to improve heat resistance – although only females of this cross-breed are fertile.
Finally, zebus are used for meat, milk, draught (pulling wagons and plows), and sometimes, even for riding. That makes them remarkably similar to cows in almost every way.
Scientific name: Bos javanicus
In short: Banteng are so similar to cows that it can be impossible to tell them apart at a distance.
Bantengs are a species of “Bos” that are so identical to the domesticated cow that they can be impossible to tell from a Taurine, a breed of cows, at a distance.
However, bantengs tend to be much smaller. For example, banteng can be as small as 500 lbs. or as much as 2,000 lbs.
Most bantengs have small, outwardly curving horns. Almost all of them also have white coloration bleeding out to black on the horns although there are types of banteng with uniform horns.
Like many other cattle on this list, banteng can also mix with cows, although males aren’t fertile.
Finally, bantengs are rarely used for milk. That’s because they don’t lactate as much or as long as domesticated cows.
Scientific name: Bos sauveli
In short: Koupreys look like tall, thin cattle with long horns and are otherwise indistinguishable from the domestic cow.
Koupreys are a bone species native to southeast Asia where they live in forests and hills. These cow-like animals are taller than most cattle, feature a hump or ridge along the shoulders, and are normally slimmer than domestic cows.
However, they’re considered one of the closest relatives of the auroch, the extinct bovine that was bred into the modern cow.
Unlike cows, koupreys also graze on bamboo and several legumes in the wild. Otherwise, koupreys look exactly like cows.
Koupreys are currently critically endangered, with an estimated 250 left in the wild.
8. Water Buffalo
Scientific name: Bubalus bubalus
In short: Water buffalo closely resemble cows and may be mistaken for the, although the horns are normally significantly larger and wider.
Water buffalo are a species of domesticated cattle native to the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia.
These cattle have a wild and endangered ancestor, the “wild water buffalo”, but there are few differences other than temperament and size.
Today, some 130 million water buffalo are kept by humans.
In addition, despite their numbers being significantly lower than domestic cows, they are the sole source of livelihood for more people than any other animal on earth. That’s because water buffalo are used for tilling, milk, meat, and hides.
Water buffalo are broken into river buffalo, carabao or swamp buffalo, and black buffalo. All look slightly different, but have the same genetic profile, meaning they are breeds of the same species.
Scientific name: Bubalus mindorensis
In short: Tamaraws are small, cow-like buffalo with short, v-shaped horns, making them look remarkably like a cross between a cow and a goat.
Tamaraws, also known as the “dwarf” buffalo, are a species of buffalo native to Mindoro in the Philippines.
Due to its tiny range and high importance to locals for meat, tamaraws are now critically endangered, with an estimated fewer than 250 animals left in the wild.
In addition, tamaraws are called “dwarf”, but with an average length of 7 feet and weight of up to 700 lbs., they are not “tiny”. Instead, they’re smaller than their closest cousins, the water buffalo.
Like other buffalo, tamaraws have broad, flat heads and short, wide horns, which they use for ramming opponents, rather than for locking horns.
10. African Buffalo
Scientific name: Syncerus caffer
In short: African Buffalo look extremely similar to cows except they have a smaller head when compared to the body and broader horns.
African buffalo are a diverse species of buffalo native to the African continent, with five subspecies. While all of them look the same, they vary in size from about 800 pounds to over 1,700 pounds.
In addition, horn shapes and sizes are significantly different. The Congo buffalo normally has straight horns and reddish coloration. On the other hand, most African buffalo are black with curving horns.
The buffalo is built very similarly to the bison with humps and large shoulders. However, they are thinner and taller than most species of bison.
In addition, the head is proportionally smaller in comparison with the body.
Therefore, buffalo are unmistakably bovine, but you’d rarely mistake them for actual cows.
Cows are one of the most common animals on earth and one that we rely on heavily. However, they’re far from the only thing that looks like a cow. And, we tend to coexist with most cow-like animals the same way, whether the Yak or the Water Buffalo. These large, friendly, and mild-mannered animals are consistently one of humans’ best allies.