Aurochs

Aurochs

A N Aurochs in blind rage, charging through thick and thin, has had a fascination for me as long as I can remember. The true aurochs and this, the European Bison, ceased to exist in the British Isles, except in the Zoological Gardens; but the latter is still found wild in Lithuania, and is also carefully preserved in other parts of Russia, of which the Emperor has a herd. There is much talk about their being untamable—that they will not mix with tame cattle—that tame cows shrink from the aurochs' calves; but does not any cow shrink from any calf not her own? The American Bison, with which you are all pretty familiar, is very similar to the one just mentioned. There have been several attempts made to domesticate the American bison, and have been so far successful. The size and strength of the animal make it probable that if domesticated, it would be of great use.

We now come to the most interesting species of the family, now extinct as a wild animal, but perfectly traceable—the primitive wild ox of Europe, the original of our farm cattle. It was much larger than any modern breed, and bore immense, wide-spreading horns, as still do certain coarse breeds in southern Europe, and especially in Spain, whence the herds of long-horned cattle of America were derived. Old bulls were black, but there is reason to suspect that the cows and calves may have been red. This great animal roamed throughout Europe and western Asia, and was counted among the fiercest of game in Cæsar's time, who found it called "ur," or "aurochs"; the former word was Latinized as urus, and the latter, when this ox had disappeared, became transferred to the bison. Even in Roman times the wild ox was growing scarce, and it died out early in the seventeenth century. Meanwhile, from prehistoric days, calves have been tamed by the peasantry, and such cattle as Europe and the Mediterranean basin generally possessed were until quite recently little better than rough descendants of this captured stock.

The so-called "wild white cattle" preserved in various British parks are, according to Lydekker, albino descendants of the tamed native black aurochs stock, of unknown antiquity, and are kept white (with blackish or reddish ears and muzzles) by weeding out the dark-colored calves which occasionally appear; but do not represent the original aurochs as well as do the Welsh breed preserved in Pembroke since prehistoric days. These park cattle are all of moderate size, elegantly shaped, with soft hair, white, black-tipped horns of moderate length, and many wild traits.