STL Science Center

STL Science Center

02 November 2015

Aurochs and Mountains

Europe, where the history comes from (as Eddie Izzard states), has been a bit of a battleground, as the other continents have been in their time, for conservation and wildlife "rights" for some time now. Granted there has been much turmoil in some parts of the continent in the past thirty years that has put wildlife on a backburner, but many conservation efforts appear to have taken root quite well (others not so much as yet). The initiative of key interest to the blog today, however, is the reintroduction of Aurochs to the wilds of Europe. The Tauros Programme is focused on retro-breeding Aurochs from domesticated cattle that were originally bred from the once prolific and prevalent wild oxen of Europe. As the third largest mammal of the "Ice Age" (behind Woolly Rhinos and Woolly Mammoths) it was an important food source (arguably it still is as all extant cattle breeds globally can be traced back to the Aurochs) and, after domestication and breeding efforts, an important work animal as well. Standing almost 2m tall it was an extremely large bovid and retro-breeding the animals and reintroducing them is a complex and potentially dangerous program. Recently, on 16th October of this year, a third herd was released into the wilderness of the Danube Delta of Romania. The two initial sites are located in Western Iberia (the Portugal/Spain border area) and the Velebit Mountains of Croatia. The retro-breeding site itself is in The Netherlands and the near-oxen are the pride of the Dutch cattle herders that are in charge of them. They are as genetically and anatomically close to the original stock as possible and the goal of all of this work is to re-establish the ecological role of the original animal. This begs the question, is it possible to re-engineer a wild animal from its domesticated descendants? This is what these wonderful animals look like today, I will let the audience decide if they think it is possible to repopulate the wild while they watch this (comments welcome):

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