back to the future
For thousands of years, a species of elephant-sized cows, called "aurochs," roamed throughout the wilds of Europe. The last of the aurochs died in Poland in 1627 after humans drove the mega-bovines to extinction. Today, the effects of an auroch-less ecosystem are felt throughout Europe, CNN writes: "Conservationists now believe the loss of the keystone herbivore was tragic for biodiversity in Europe, arguing that the aurochs' huge appetite for grazing provided a natural 'gardening service' that maintained landscapes and created the conditions for other species to thrive."
So why not ... bring the aurochs back? It's not science-fiction — in fact, the plan is in the works right now. But instead of trying to use DNA to recreate the aurochs, à la Jurassic Park, scientists are "backbreeding" the aurochs' modern-day relative: the cow.
A photo posted by Aurélie Bouuh (@aureliebouuh) on Dec 17, 2016 at 9:25am PST
Of course, cows can't exactly become aurochs again, much less transform overnight. Ecologist Ronald Goderie is instead working to create the next best thing, the "Tauros," which is a "near 100 percent substitute" of the auroch. To do so, Goderie and his team are strategically breeding modern cows that have remnants of the aurochs' genes in order to work toward the purest possible final product. That will take about seven generations, by ecologists' estimates, which means the "completed" Tauros will be born sometime around 2025. Today, the Tauros are in their fourth generation.
"Bovines can shape habitats and facilitate other species because of their behavior," explained Frans Schepers, the managing director of Rewilding Europe, which has partnered with Goderie, "and the more primitive and close to the wild the better, because it means that eventually they can become part of the natural system."