Wednesday, 21 October 2009


The Aurochs has played an extremely important part of human lives for thousands of years. In it’s wild state it was hunted to provide food, leather and tendons for bow strings. After being domesticated, it now decides the fate of billions of people worldwide thanks to its meat. At an estimated 1.53bn cattle in 2001, the species is clearly of massive importance in the modern world.

But back to the Aurochs. It is probable that it was domesticated 8,000-6,000 years ago by a number of different cultures around the world. It was exterminated in Britain somewhere between 4,100-2,750 years ago (or the Bronze age if you would like), but in the 13th century (AD), the Aurochs was only left, in its wild state, in eastern Europe. In 1564, gamekeepers surveyed the lands and found 38 cattle. In 1627 the last female died, and the wild species became extinct.

Anyway, that is the background to the story. This morning, whilst researching Vampire Bat control, I got distracted and ended up reading Walker’s Mammals of the World (1999). It was here that I got distracted again by Artiodactyls, and got reading about wild cattle. The author then mentioned something extraordinary. Harrison (1972) had discussed possible Aurochs late survival in Iraq. D. L. Harrison had written in “The Mammals of Arabia” that the Aurochs could have survived into the early 20th century in Iraq. After googling this, I can find the book for sale, but there is nothing about late Aurochs survival in Iraq. No website mentions it, only to say that the Aurochs probably became extinct in the Middle East and surrounding areas a few thousand years ago. Is there anyone out there who knows more about this, or would have access to a copy of the book? Please please let me know if you can, this could be a very interesting bit of sort-of crypto information.

A taxonomic footnote: Although it is usually given the name of Bos taurus, domesticated cattle have more resently been fitted into B. primigenius. European cattle developed from the subspecies B. p. primigenius, whilst the Indian Zebu was developed from B. p. namadicus. I have tried to avoid giving anything a scientific name in this blog; chances are when it comes out the taxonomy will be out of date!