“Hailed by Julius Caesar for its extraordinary size and the subject of cave paintings dating back 17,000 years, the extinct aurochs has been described as the most important animal in the history of humankind.
Standing 6ft high at the shoulder and weighing more than a tonne, it is the ancestor of all cattle and helped usher in an era of agriculture, which sparked the birth of civilisation.
Now, after nearly 400 years, the enormous creature is on the verge of being brought back to life with help from Scottish Highland Cattle, in the hope that wild roaming herds could help restore lost ecosystems.
Since 2008, the Tauros Programme in the Netherlands has sought genetic traits of the aurochs from cattle scattered throughout Europe, with the goal of breeding them into a unique herd.
Researchers have scoured historical accounts and studied artworks to understand how the aurochs looked and behaved.
Thirteen years after the project began, the programme has a herd of around 350 to 400 animals.
Ronald Goderie, director of the Taurus Foundation, which is overseeing the Tauros Programme, said: “What we see in our herds in terms of how they look is that they are slowly getting closer to the image we have in mind.
“But it’s not just about aesthetics, it’s also about de-domestication. The animals are performing more and more wild behaviour. We saw wonderful examples of that last summer when we have very high water levels along many rivers in the Netherlands.
“This resulted in a lot of autonomous behaviour such as swimming to dry places, which we had not seen in our herds up to that point.
“While we’re still in the process of actively breeding the animals, they are showing more and more signs of self-reliance.”
Aurochs were once present across the whole of Europe, but the last animal was recorded in a Polish forest in 1627.
The team has chosen to breed the features into cows, rather than using Jurassic Park-style editing techniques, so that the animals can be released into the wild.
They hope to reach a point where they could live on areas of 50,000 hectares without much human interference.”
Comment: The red drawn ones are the size of the Autochs and the white our puny modern cattle. Perhaps these resuscitated Aurochs could be the national beast of an independent Scotland. I like to think of them roaming the Highlands. pl