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.
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.
The Bovidae form a most extensive family, with members widely distributed throughout the Old World, with the exception of the Australian region; but in America they are less numerous, and confined to the Arctic and northern temperate regions, no species being indigenous either to South or Central America.
The Bovidae are thus brought into nearer relationship with the American prongbuck (the only living ruminant which sheds its horn-cover in the adult condition) than has generally been supposed.
In geographical distribution the Bovidae present a remarkable contrast to the deer tribe, or Cervidae.
Gadow is of opinion that the antlers of the deer, the hornlike protuberances on the skull of the giraffe, and the true horns of the prongbuck and other hollow-horned ruminants (Bovidae) are all different stages of evolution from a single common type: the antlers of the deer being the most primitive, and the horns of the Bovidae the most specialized.
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.
It has already been pointed out that the Cervidae originated in the northern continent of the Old World; and it has been suggested that the Bovidae were developed in Africa.