EURASIAN AUROCHS | EXTINCT WILD OX OF EUROPE
The aurochs, also known as aurochsen, urus, or ure, was a big wild cattle species that once roamed Asia, Europe, and North Africa. Extant domestic cattle are considered subspecies of aurochs, even if the wild subspecies, including the formal subspecies Bos primigenius primigenius, is extinct. Unless otherwise noted, all further discussion and use of the term “aurochs” in this page refers to the extinct wild subspecies. In Europe, Bos primigenius primigenius lived until 1627, when the last known aurochs perished in Poland’s Jaktorów Forest.
The Pliocene’s colder climate resulted in the expansion of open grassland, allowing huge grazers like wild bovines to evolve. Bos acutifrons is an extinct bovine species that has been proposed as the aurochs’ ancestor. The oldest aurochs remains have been discovered in India, dating back around 2 million years. The first subspecies to arise was the Indian subspecies. The species traveled west into the Middle East (western Asia) as well as east throughout the Pleistocene. They arrived in Europe approximately 270,000 years ago. The zebu, or South Asian domestic cattle, developed from Indian aurochs near the Thar Desert’s edge; the zebu is drought resistant. Domestic yak, gayal, and Bali cattle are not aurochs descendants.
The aurochs’ appearance has been reconstructed using bone data, historical records, and contemporaneous renderings such as cave paintings, engravings, and Sigismund von Herberstein’s drawing. The artwork by Charles Hamilton Smith is a replica of a 16th-century painting owned by a merchant in Augsburg.
The aurochs’ dimensions and body form were radically different from those of many modern cattle types. The legs, for example, were much longer and slender, resulting in a shoulder height that was about equivalent to the trunk length. The skull, which supported the huge horns, was significantly larger and longer than in most cattle breeds. The aurochs had an athletic body type, similar to that of other wild bovines, with a prominent neck and shoulder musculature, especially in bulls.
As a result, the forehand was larger than the backhand, comparable to the wisent but different from many domesticated cattle. The udder was small and barely visible from the side, even while transporting animals; this trait is comparable to that of other wild bovines.
Aurochs were vanished from southern Greece by the time of Herodotus (5th century BC), but they were still prevalent north and east of the Echedorus River, close to modern-day Thessaloniki. The species was last seen in the southern Balkans in the first century BC, when Varro recorded those violent wild oxen roamed Dardania (southern Serbia) and Thrace.
In Poland, the privilege to hunt huge animals on any territory was reserved first to nobility, then to royal households. Aurochs hunting came to an end when the population of the animals dwindled. In exchange for their services, the Polish Royal Family utilized gamekeepers to offer open pastures for the aurochs to graze on, exempting them from local taxes. Poaching aurochs has been made a punishable offense.
According to a survey conducted by the Polish royal court in 1564, gamekeepers were aware of 38 creatures. The last known living aurochs, a female, died of natural causes in the Jaktorów Forest in Poland in 1627. Unrestricted hunting, a shrinking of habitat due to the rise of farming, and diseases spread by domesticated cattle were the causes of extinction.