These rib roasts would be formidable. Dec 30, 2016 6:54:35 GMT -7
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Scientists edge closer to bringing back from the dead the fabled aurochs, giant wild cattle that once roamed Europe's forests
Prehistoric hunters take on an aurochs, a formidable wild cattle that was driven to extinction
by the 17th century. Credit: Bettmann Archiv
Nick Squires, Rome
30 December 2016 • 1:19pm
Its curved horns, huge bulk and irascible temperament made it a formidable foe for prehistoric hunters, but scientists are edging closer to a long-held dream of bringing back from extinction one of Europe’s most impressive beasts – the aurochs.
The creature, the ancestor of modern cattle, once roamed tangled forests and sodden marshlands from Britain to the Balkans and beyond to Asia and North Africa. But it disappeared from the British Isles in the Iron Age and was driven to extinction in the rest of Europe by the 17th century, with the last specimen dying in the Jaktorow Forest in Poland in 1627.
Now researchers are working to bring it back to life through a process known as back-breeding, which entails selectively mating existing breeds of “primitive” cattle which retain much of the ancient aurochs’ DNA.
Using a process known as back-breeding, which involves selectively mating existing varieties of cattle, scientists believe they will soon develop a beast that shares the same characteristics as the fabled auroch.
Hundreds of calves have been born since the Operation Tauros initiative began in 2009 and with each successive generation the scientists come closer to achieving their aim.
The auroch’s renowned size - they stood at nearly seven feet tall and weighed around one tonne - as well as their quick tempers are key characteristics scientists are trying to replicate as they gradually come closer to bringing aurochs back from the dead.
The legendary animal used to roam around the forests of Europe and even ventured into Asia and North Africa, but the last known specimen died in Poland in 1627.
They have not been seen in Britain since the Iron Age, more than 2000 years ago.
Professor Donato Matassino, an Italian scientist taking part in Operation Tauros, told The Telegraph: “I don’t think we’ll ever be able to create an animal that is 100 per cent like the aurochs, but we can get very close.
It is hoped aurochs could be slowly released back into the wild, finding their home in the woods and forests of northern Europe.
Prof Matassimo continued: “They’d play an important role in the ecology of the forest, trampling vegetation, eating bushes and keeping meadows and grassland clear.”
The image of an auroch makes up part of the Ishtar Gate in Babylon, built in 575 BC
Aurochs have been depicted in cave paintings across Europe and were even written about by Roman emperor Julius Caesar.
Caesar described them as “a little below the elephant in size, and of the appearance, colour and shape of a bull.
“Their strength and speed are extraordinary; they spare neither man nor wild beast which they have espied.”