Sunday, 17 November 2013

Aurochs horns at Oostvaardersplassen

This is just a foretaste on another post about horns that will come soon. As I wrote on various previous articles, the very variable horn shapes of the Heck cattle at Oostvaardersplassen plus the selective pressure enable this population to develop functionally effective and aurochs-like horns; this is an ongoing process, as the horns of most of the cattle in that reserve resemble that of Steppe cattle, and only a few individuals with inwards-curving and slightly forwards-directing horns have emerged yet. We can expect their number to make up a much larger percentage in the next 15 years. Curiously, these individuals are exclusively cows yet.

(I would insert the video here, but Blogger doesn't find it) Notice the black cow, which horns (although being still too upright) already show a basically correct shape with inwards-facing tips. 

The grayish cow next to the aurochs-coloured cow appearing at 0:12 can also be seen on various photos on google, and her horns are more aurochs-like than in most of her ancestral "captive" Heck cattle from the 1980s. Still too upright, but going the right direction. 

Be aware of the fact that only the horns of the two individuals I just presented here resemble the aurochs, their body shape and skull shape is still much too domestic and their size is certainly far away from their wild type as well. 

The two individuals down below have perfectly curved horns, they'd just need to face more forwards and be larger and they would resemble the aurochs to the largest possible extent. Also their colour is aurochs-like, except the white patch on the forehead. Both cows are very similar (but they are not the same individual), perhaps they are related. 

In 15 years, if everything stays as it is, we can expect cows with such horns to be much more common than they are now, because this horn shape is simply advantageous (when pulling and pushing their opponent in intraspecific fights), and there probably will be individuals with even more aurochs-like horns. In the current population, there are also individuals with the right colour, also some with the right proportions and body shape, but they never have all 3 wild type features at the same time. Maybe natural selection will produce such more aurochs-like individuals in the future. I propose selective culling to speed up that process.


  1. This blog remains fascinating, makes you think what would be possible. Breeding back anything from a mammoth out of an elephant to a carrierpigeon from a dove.

    In this video around 14 minutes in, you can see some more heck cattle, with different hornshapes:

    1. Thank you!
      I didn't know this video before, thanks again.
      Regarding the Mammoth, I think this is entirely impossible. Mammoths and modern elephants diverged millions of years ago, and they probably do not contain a single diagnostic gene of any Mammoth species.

    2. Ofcourse you're right, extremely unrealistic, but a person can dream. And you do kind of contradict yourself. You often say that breedingback is never possible, merely effigybreeding. The animal is never the same as the aurochs or the tarpan would have been, had it survived. Clearly given enough time (and money!) it would be possible to breed a very hairy elephant, that looks like a mammoth, wouldn't it?

    3. The difference is that cattle are a domesticated form of the aurochs; they belong to the same species, have the same ecology and behaviour and some breeds also have big optic resemblance. A "bred-back aurochs" that also is fully dedomesticated would only differ in some genetic aspects, but be probably close enough to be considered another subspecies of the aurochs.
      A hairy elephant on the other side does not descend from mammoths, and does not share any diagnostic features, be it genetically, ecological or optical. And the optical resemblance probably wouldn't be large either, the morphology of mammoths and recent elephants differ in more aspects than just hair.

  2. Allright, I stand corrected. Although I keep wondering about the ecology. The bigger an animal, the less choosy usually. All those high trees here in Europe and no one to feed on them, but maybe a giraffe would be better :)