Aurochs Are Making a Comeback, Giant Horns and All

Think "Jurassic Park," but with more cattle and less mayhem

A male aurochs is pictured at the Animal Park of Sainte-Croix in Rhodes, eastern France on May 25, 2016.
AFP via Getty Images

The idea of bringing back a previously extinct animal was, for a long time, the stuff of science fiction novels and the profitable blockbuster franchises made from them. But increasingly — as the saying goes — science fiction is becoming science fact. There’s an effort underway to get woolly mammoths walking the earth again, for one thing. And while aurochs, the ancestors of today’s modern cattle, have only been extinct since the 17th century, reviving them is also a bold initiative.

A new article in Atlas Obscura chronicles the efforts to bring the aurochs back to Europe. This is less about extracting centuries-old DNA and more figuring out how to breed cattle in such a way that the right traits are emphasized, a process known as back-breeding. The article points to cattle populations in England, Spain and France that all bear a strong similarity to their ancient relatives.

It also focuses on the work being done by groups like Germany’s Auerrind Project and the Tauros Programme, which is based in the Netherlands. The Aurrind Project’s Claus Kropp sounded an optimistic note when it came to the group’s efforts. “If we continue a careful selection for the next 10 years, we could potentially have a stable population by then,” Kropp told Atlas Obscura.

Could their work help increase biodiversity at a time when the planet’s ecology is under constant threat? It’s a fascinating look at modern science being used to reconnect with the past.

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