Two million years ago, an enormous species of ox, called Aurochs, emerged from regions of northern India and migrated into Europe, long before the arrival of humans. Their massive size, standing at a height of over 6 feet, and 4 foot long horns inspired the earliest artists, painting them in the caves of Lascaux, France. The creatures were impressive enough to move Julius Caesar, who wrote of the primitive ox as being "a little smaller than an elephant, but with the color, appearance and shape of a bull. Their strength and speed are extraordinary." Aurochs were soon domesticated, and highly regarded for their resiliency to cold, heat, and famine. But, when the last primitive ox died in Poland in 1627 from poaching, it seemed the Aurochs would be lost forever--that is, until now.According to a report from BBC Brasil, scientists in southern Italy are hoping to "revive" the large ox by cross breeding three different breeds of existing cattle. In 1996, researchers were able to map the Aurochs' genetics from bone samples--and they believe that the breeding could produce oxen with nearly identical DNA to the extinct animal.
Matassino Donato, one of the directors of the project:
We will rebuild, step by step, the genetic combination of primitive ox. This is a first crossing of a series. This newborn animal will give us material to use in future crosses. It will take some years to reach the closest animal ancestor of the ox. We may also use different techniques such as artificial insemination, embryo production in vitro and, eventually, cloning.
Scientists believe Aurochs possessed a unique ability to endure extreme temperatures and survive in less arable conditions than modern cattle--and that such animals might be more resilient through future global climate changes.
This is not the first attempt to resurrect the extinct ox, however. Last century, the Nazis made similar efforts to breed Aurochs, believing they would be better suited for the conquered grazing land of eastern Europe.
Scientists are eagerly awaiting the birth resulting from the first breeding which is expected within the next few days.