The Auroch was a large species of wild ox that inhabited Europe, Asia, and North Africa. It is the ancestor of domestic cattle. The species survived in Europe until the 17th century.
There are three recognized subspecies: Eurasian, Indian, and North African. Biologisits hypothesize the Auroch was domesticated twice in two separate events – the Eurasian into Taurine cattle and the Indian into Zebu cattle.
From skeletal remains, written descriptions, and visual representations it is believed that Aurochs, on average, were six feet tall at the shoulder and weighed up to 3,300 pounds. They had massive horns that could reach 31 inches in length. Unlike modern cattle the species had long, slender legs and their skulls, due to the size of their horns, were substantially larger. The coloration seems to be standard across the three subspecies with the calves being a chestnut color which in bulls darkened into a very deep brown or black with a white stripe along the spine and whitish muzzles. Cows retained their reddish chestnut color into maturity. The North African Auroch is sometimes portrayed with a light colored “saddle” pattern on their back.
The last recorded Eurasian auroch died in 1627 in the Jaktorów Forest, Poland from natural causes. No measures to preserve the animal were taken according to the historical record. Though, the conception of extinction was not accepted until around 1800 CE.
Unrestricted hunting, loss of critical habitat due to human encroachment, and diseases transmitted from domesticated cattle all contributed to the extinction of the Auroch.
There have been a number of attempts to breed back the Auroch. None of these efforts are recognized as being successful.
Today marks the 6th annual Remembrance Day for Lost Species. Remembrance Day is an opportunity to set aside time to memorialize one of those lost species. To create a space that allows us to acknowledge and grieve for what we have lost. It is also a chance for us to tell their story and renew our commitments to ensuring the remaining are preserved and flourish.
This is the premise of my latest project, It Was Very Good, to catalog and remember the animal species lost due to human actions. The first post went live last week: The Atlas Bear. Next week’s will be the Auroch.
Today, though I’m going to set some time aside to mourn the loss of the Australian Thylacine. Eighty years ago the last known Thylacine, Benjamin, died in a zoo. No one living today knows what the Thylacine sounded like. No one is alive today knows how they moved or what their social interactions were. And no one will ever know these things. I think we are poorer for that loss and I think it is something worth mourning over.
There is nothing I, or you, can do for the Thylacine. But, there is also nothing any of us can do when a loved one dies. We acknowledge that loss though. We mourn and remember. As Abi Nielson so aptly put it, “Surely a failure to acknowledge, or to mark the passing of such losses is just one more disconnect between ourselves and the world we inhabit? We are humans, we are animals. We berate our rich politicians for being out of touch with the lives of the majority, while we ourselves remain out of touch with the lives of the majority of animals on this planet.” Remembrance Day is one small way we can help get ourselves back in touch.
The Atlas Bear was the only bear species endemic to the African continent to exist into modern times. The bear’s native habitat was the Atlas range of mountains between Morocco and Libya.
This brown bear is described as being brownish black in color with a reddish belly. It could reach a length of nine feet and weigh up to 1000 pounds.
The expansion of the Roman empire is a likely contributor to the decline of the Atlas Bear with 1000s of them being killed in hunts and captured for killing in public games and executions. Their extinction occurred shortly after the invention of modern firearms.
The last recorded kill of the bear in the wild occurred in the Tetouan Mountains of northern Morocco in 1870.