The first herd of aurochs in Central and Eastern Europe has been settling in at a reserve of large herbivores

2015 - 10 - 13
The first herd of aurochs in Central and Eastern Europe has been settling in at a reserve of large herbivores

Initially shyly holding back inside the truck, they then leapt into the fresh meadow. This was the arrival in Central and Eastern Europe of the herd of first-ever aurochs produced through a breed-back programme. The group arrived this morning at the reserve for large hoofed mammals located in the former military area of Milovice near Prague.

While the animals that came from the Netherlands initially had respect for the dozens of people on hand for their arrival, they soon decided to change the confined space of the truck for a two-hectare acclimatization pen, where the animals had green grass and fresh water available as well as shrubs for them to hide from the surrounding area. The truck delivered a bull and five young females, 13–25 months old.

“The entire herd managed the trip very well. The animals were not injured during the transport or the unloading operation,” says Dalibor Dostal, director of the conservation organisation European Wildlife.

The aurochs went extinct throughout Europe due to humans, with the last one expiring in 1627 in the royal hunting grounds located near the small town of Jaktorow, Poland. But, thanks to advances in genetics, a breed-back project was launched in 2008. The TaurOs project carried out by the Taurus Foundation in the Netherlands in collaboration with scientists from Wageningen University selected several primeval European bovine breeds that are genetically and visually closest to the aurochs. Their cross-breeding strengthens the aurochs traits in the offspring, so after several generations it should result in an animal that exactly matches the aurochs in appearance and ecological role.

The truck transporting the animals arrived at the reserve at 5 a.m., and the release was carried out after dawn at 7 a.m. After a month, the animals are to enter a large grazing area to join fifteen wild horses that have been ranging here since the winter. Like the horses, the aurochs will be monitored by scientists. As early as the day of arrival, animal behaviour specialists not only began studying the behaviour of animals within the herd, but they will also keep an eye on inter-species interactions, i.e., relations between the aurochs and wild horses.

Once it left the former military area of Milovice, the truck continued to Romania with another group of aurochs, where another new herd will be established. Besides their Dutch homeland, individuals produced within the aurochs breed-back programme have appeared so far only in Southern Europe: Faia Brava, Portugal; Campanarios, Spain; and the Velebit Mountains in Croatia.

Photo: Michal Köpping

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