Sign up for our Free email Newsletter
and get all the latest wildlife news!
Choose:
Wild Travel Magazine

Aurochs being recreated - Or are they?

11/10/2012 16:19:22

Questions?

What is the goal of this project? Is it to save the butterflies that are suffering due to lack of grazing animals? You don't need to create a new species to do that.

Is it to recreate an extinct species? This may be possible, one day, with DNA tricks in embryos, but that is not what is being planned here.  

Begins to sound a little like a vanity project.

Ancient breed to return to Central Europe


September 2012. For hundreds of thousands of years Aurochs were a feature of the European wilderness. Since the death of the last aurochs in 1627 in the Jaktorow game preserve in Poland, it seemed that Europe has lost this key species forever. However European Wildlife, in cooperation with the Dutch Taurus Foundation, is planning to return Aurochs to the mountains of Central Europe.

The project is part of a program of the European Centre of Biodiversity whose aim is to protect endangered species and to reintroduce the ones that have become extinct in many places - European bison, wild cats or wild bees. And the aurochs, of course.

Cross breeding
The Dutch Taurus Foundation is preparing two herds that they hope will form the base for semi-wild breeding herds of aurochs in the mountains of the Czech Republic. The aurochs are being ‘recreated' by cross-breeding the suitable primitive breeds of cattle from the whole of Europe within the Tauros Programme.

"The central idea of the Tauros Programme is to find the European bovine breeds with the best ‘primitive' characteristics and breed them into a new fully self-sufficient cattle breed. It will not be an exact copy of the aurochs, but will be very close, so we will call the animal the Tauros. The breeding should be done on a large scale because large numbers are needed," said Ronald Goderie, a board member of the Taurus Foundation. The Aurochs is the animal to choose as our reference, because after about 400.000 years of evolution, the Aurochs had turned into an animal perfected for the European situation.

The Foundation examined about 30 primitive bovine breeds and works with about 6 European breeds, each with at least some of the right characteristics. In each area they prefer to start with a suitable local primitive cattle breed if available and if proven to have enough primitive characteristics. The project started in 2008 and is divided into four phases. In the concluding phase, after about 2025, the expected results will have all the right characteristics of the aurochs - the colour, size, behaviour and the way of grazing. These animals will by then have been recognized as wild living creatures and released into the wild. But the early results from the Taurus Foundation already look very promising, so probably within a couple of years the herds will look like real aurochs-herds.

Hecks
The first attempt to back-breed the aurochs was realized by the Heck brothers in Germany in the 1920s-1930s. They created the so called Heck cattle that still can be found at some zoos and are used in several nature reserves. However, those particular animals do not resemble the original aurochs in body size, horn shape and size or by their behaviour.

Original distribution
Once the aurochs roamed over vast areas of Europe, Northern Africa and Asia. It was an impressive animal, perfectly adapted to the diversity of landscapes it inhabited. The Aurochs ranged from open savannah-like landscapes to marshes, forests and mountain foothills, and was able to fill in most ecological niches encountered in Europe.

Adult Aurochs could hold their ground against big predators such as wolves; the long and thick horns acted as a powerful defence against any outside threat and the animal was as tall as two meters high.

Read the comments about this article and leave your own comment

AUROCHS CAN NEVER BE RESURRECTED

The nature that surrounds us is used to define ourselves. That is certainly the case in Britain, but what it does here (and in the Netherlands where the Tauros Foundation is based) is effectively define everything in the context of agro-ecology, that the simplified ecology resulting from centuries of agricultural use has become the "wild nature" that is conserved. In that sense, it is very easy, because the practical action to conserve it is just to maintain that agricultural pressure, irrespective of whether it has any productivity harvested from it. This is the motivation for a supposed resurrection of aurochs.

What that denies, however, is the prospect of an ecological restoration whereby farming pressure is taken off, and the landscape is allowed to turn back that simplification of ecology by reclaiming native species - particularly native vegetation - through natural distribution systems (wind, or the assistance of birds, mammals, insects). The likelihood that this species reclamation will occur in the presence of even a reduced farming/herbivore pressure has consistently been shown to be of low probability - Baronie Cranendonck and the Oostvaardersplassen in the Netherlands are just two examples of this so-called "nature development".

There are a number of issues surrounding the application of herbivore pressure under these “nature development” approaches, most stemming from a far too liberal use of analogues/reconstructions without any ecological context eg.

  • looking like an aurochs does not mean that the animal behaves in any way like an aurochs i.e phenotype is irrelevant
  • breeding in “wildness” from park cattle is again an anthropogenic action that again lacks any means of evaluation
  • de-domestication of livestock through “naturalistic grazing” – defined here as free-living and resource limited - is wishful thinking when it probably only turns the clock back 1000 years. The last aurochs in Britain were 3000 years ago.
  • contrary to the statement in the article above, the evidence suggests aurochs had a distinctive distribution in Britain, depending on the flat land of lowland floodplains (wetland more than forested) and were co-located with elk (moose). Britain had no bison, but in Europe, there was probably an ecological separation between the preferred habitat of the aurochs and that of the European bison (Bison bonasus), with the aurochs living in wetter forests and the European bison in drier forests
  • Evidence from Neolithic and modern cattle populations, and ancient dietary surveys, supports the notion that domestic herds were largely separate from aurochs. Aurochs probably remained relatively genetically distinct until they became extinct in the seventeenth century. (Edwards, C.J. et al (2007). Mitochondrial DNA analysis shows a Near Eastern Neolithic origin for domestic cattle and no indication of domestication of European aurochs. Proc. R. Soc. B 274: 1377–1385). The separation of habitats for domestic cattle and aurochs suggests that Neolithic farming groups exploited environmentally-different areas for their cattle from those used naturally by aurochs, and it is the former that these advocates for aurochs resurrection appear to be attempting to emulate, not the natural ecology of the latter
  • in relation to the habitat selection of aurochs, there is never any reference to plant strategies (competitition, disturbance, stress) in response to grazing pressure, nor of the grazing reversal hypothesis whereby under differing edaphic conditions, grazing can lead either to an increase or decrease in diversity
  • it is not the case that aurochs were unaffected by carnivores. As is shown in Yellowstone in the case of buffalo, the very young, aged or ill aurochs were at risk from wolves (van Vuure 2003). Predation is not the only aspect of carnivore influence, behavioural modification is also significant in a "landscape of fear" which redistributes herbivore pressure
  • the inevitable enclosure of these grazing animals in “nature development” projects by fencing, and the absence of behavioural modification from carnivores, means there is no spatial element in their herbivore effect. While managers may vary the number of herbivores, they will be incapable of creating the spatial variation of herbivore pressure that is induced by the physical presence of carnivores, or the ability to migrate through larger landscapes depending on season, nutrient variation etc.. This spatial element was picked up by a Dutch group, but who were primarily focused on the spiny/thorny shrub element of the overwhelmingly debunked Vera Hypothesis. They highlight the importance of the ecological restoration that takes place when herbivores are removed:
“temporary herbivore absence – due to a (mimicked) population crash or migrations – can lead to increased vegetation structure, with expected positive impact on associated biodiversity. Such fluctuations in herbivore populations presently rarely occur due to the fragmented distribution and limited size of nature areas that do not allow significant migrations, and due to the strict management of herbivore populations”
(Smit et al (2010) Effects of cattle and rabbit grazing on clonal expansion of spiny shrubs in wood-pastures Basic and Applied Ecology 11: 685–692)
  • other free-living herbivores are rarely factored in to the use of these analogues/reconstructions in “nature development”. Since the location of their study sites was the Netherlands, the above group (and the study of Baronie Cranendonck) did have to factor in the significant herbivore pressure arising from free-living rabbits, which I believe are not native to the Netherlands, as they are also not native to Britain. The existence of free-living deer is often overlooked as well.

I think it very important that the opportunity is taken to clarify the current situation where wilderness, rewilding and ecological restoration are being confused by the arch proponents of over-grazing every landscape (Rewilding Europe, ARK Nature etc) with agro-ecology. While not specifically about “nature development”, a recent study in Spain raises the issue of traditional pasture practices in the uplands of the Cantabrian Mountains. The authors of the study assert that the conservation policies of the Natura 2000 network reflect an overarching concern about the alleged negative effects of abandonment of traditional uses. They say that in particular, the abandonment of livestock herding is widely assumed to be responsible for biodiversity decreases through habitat homogenization. However, they claim those negative effects are neither straightforward nor always supported by hard data. Their study on the impact of cattle numbers in the Cantabrian Mountains led them to raise concerns about the effects on ecosystems of high densities of free-ranging livestock. Their conclusion was that while preserving traditional uses of the landscape and helping local human communities are legitimate policy options, they argue that such goals should not be disguised under the term of nature conservation. Instead, they should be named according to their main objective, e.g. preservation of cultural landscapes or economic activities.
(Blanco-Fontao et al (2010) Abandonment of traditional uses in mountain areas: typological thinking versus hard data in the Cantabrian Mountains (NW Spain). Biodiversity and Conservation 20:1133–1140)

Spain provides another example in the dehesas. These agro-silvocultural landscapes are described under the Natura 200 system as a "biodiversity-based product system". The dehesas are declining because of a lack of regeneration of trees that is caused by grazing or by poor management in terms of seeding or planting new trees. Overgrazing also leads to soil degradation in the long term. They are obviously in need of ecological restoration or they will die. In this case, abandonment is actually what they need with associated reduction in grazing pressure to allow natural regeneration, not further or continued grazing pressure which will supress it. (Jose´ Alberto Ramırez & Mario Dıaz (2008) The role of temporal shrub encroachment for the maintenance of Spanish holm oak Quercus ilex dehesas Forest Ecology and Management 255: 1976–1983)

Posted by: Mark Fisher | 17 Oct 2012 09:25:58

can aurochs be recreated

I have recently seen a viral online marketing campaign which was based on nonsense comparisons. Let me provide you an example:
orange is blue / aurochs can be reintroduced
Sorry but you speak about an extinct species! Aurochs is gone and whatever Taurus Foundation (or anyone else) says, it cannot be reintroduced or recreated! this is a creationist approach!
What's next? Mammoths or dinosaur?!
Please stop promoting this nonsense and focus on helping to protect wilderness in its pure form.

Posted by: David Amhain | 16 Oct 2012 20:20:44

i love the program

These key species have to be reintroduced

Posted by: irishturtle0124 | 14 Oct 2012 00:15:49

To post a comment you must be logged in.
CLICK HERE TO LOG IN AND POST A COMMENT

New user? Register here

 

Click join and we will email you with your password. You can then sign on and join the discussions right away.