The Return of the Aurochs — Along With Some Baggage

David Cassuto

Ever seen an aurochs?  Ever heard of one?  Answers to the latter query may vary but the response to the former is assuredly “no.”  The aurochs is an ancestor of domestic cattle and went extinct in 1627.  Though domesticated 8,000 years ago, it also lived in the wild in much of Europe until the end of the Middle Ages.

Today, there is an effort to bring back the aurochs using a technique called “back-breeding.”  Here’s how they hope it will go:

Scientists will first scour old aurochs bone and teeth fragments from museums in order to glean enough genetic material to be able to recreate its DNA. Researchers will then compare the DNA to that of modern European cattle to determine which breeds still carry the creature’s genes and create a selective-breeding program to reverse thousands of years of evolution. If everything goes as planned, each passing generation will more closely resemble the ancient aurochs.

This endeavor raises a vexing ethical dilemma.  Though I believe it a net positive to retrieve a species that went extinct due to human causes, I cannot placidly sign on to using domestic cattle to achieve an end into which they have no input or agency.  Furthermore, the recreated aurochs will enjoy a freedom that their domesticated producers never knew and that western society has no interest in providing for them.
Putting aside the (still unsettled) issue of whether it is ever appropriate to sacrifice the autonomy of one animal for the good of another, there is a threshold and issue-specific question that remains unaddressed: Why do the aurochs deserve liberty while existing breeds of cattle do not?  Furthermore, how do such questions get decided?  And by whom?
Read more about the Aurochs Project here.

3 Responses

  1. I live for the day when science can create genetically true Neanderthals who will then roam the halls of Congress and sit in executive chambers, returning the world to sense.

    As for the auroch, someone will want to domesticate them for food. You can count on that. Wandering around Europe is definitely not in the cards!

  2. I enjoy reading this page, always learn something interesting facts.
    Emily R. from Husky Secrets

  3. Working for over 20 years, our Diarmid Cattle breeding program is the first to create the form and function of the extinct Aurochs using less then 4 bovine breeds. We used three. I produced 13 color phenotypes and basically discovered the key was Scottish Highland cattle bred to any double muscled cattle breed.

    I had plans of using only Highland cows bred to Bazadaise Bulls from France, thus becoming the first to import Bazadaise beef products to the United States. My plans were always to make a beef animal which fit the worlds ecology. In this case a perfect fit as studies confirm Highland cattle when used as a replacement for, the extinct Aurochs resulted in a ten fold increase in Flora and Fauna.

    Many will claim their research as original and we will seldom be given credit for our concept, but early publications on the net and our paper ” The Blue Ox Express” will prove we developed the concept. Our website for a time exposed nearly 10,000 contacts per week,( Google). The most recent article seen in National Geographic July 2010 also fail to credit our work.

    Discovering the historic work of the Heck Brothers and Heck cattle, we were surprised to see a living example out our window and the work breeding a better idea for healthy Beef products was realized. I fit form to function and won twice, a healthy beef product and a tool for future world ecology during a time of mass extinction. We called them Diarmid Cattle.


    Michael W. McDermott
    19157 210th. Ave. S.W.
    Crookston, Mn. 56716

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