Monday, 4 January 2016

Post #200!

This is my 200th post. I have been blogging for two and a half years now, it has been a lot of fun doing research, “field trips” and artworks for this blog. I thought it was time to do a little retrospect on what I have published here so far to give you an overview, also for readers that have not been following my blog for so long but might be interested in some older articles.
I actually intended to read and correct form and language, but unfortunately I don’t have the time to do it thoroughly. Many of the pictures used in the posts became not displayed at some point due to either a change of html or errors by blogger. It’s annoying and I was not able nor had I the time to restore all of them. I apologize.  

My first entries in May and June 2013 were rather modest. This post
The various breeding-back efforts provides a quick overview over the most important breeding-back attempts. However, it should be a bit more comprehensive and I might do a new one one day.
This article What is breeding-back all about? introduces what breeding-back is about and what good there is in it. Note that I used the word phenotype synonymously with morphology and looks back then, which is imprecise. This term actually describes everything that is expressed by the genotype and influenced by environment, and therefore also includes factors such as behaviour.

Most post on my blog, perhaps up to 80%, are about the aurochs. Not because I am incredibly obsessed with this animal, but there is much more to write about. Concerning the European wild horse, I covered everything I have references for already unless new research delivers new data. Furthermore, there are no breeding-back projects for this species, and also are not necessary because we have breeds that already are what we want for the aurochs. For the quagga, I already gathered and posted all info I have about the quagga itself as much as the QP, but I keep on looking for new.
I have been planning to do more species diversification here for long, but I think everything we can say about the European wild ass and the European water buffalo is said in my posts already, until new evidence shows up.

Now I am going to present the most relevant posts per category.

General articles

A little article on what I find so fascinating about the whole subject, but also what it is all about and what good it serves after all.

Why doing breeding-back at all? A similar themed article.

“Effigy breed” is an attempt of mine to translate the German Abbildzüchtung as a neutral term for the result of “breeding-back” (or in this case “effigy breeding”) that does not acclaim to reconstruct the whole species/wild type. I am not so happy with that term, which is why I don’t use it that often anymore. The post is about if there is a relevant difference between the result of a breeding-back attempt and a primitive landrace.


The quagga and the Quagga Project introduces the quagga and its evolutionary background and systematic position, as well as the Quagga Project. I go into the project’s methods and in how far the project’s zebras can resemble the quagga.

A little personal prognosis in form of a drawing.

A collection of photos of all 23 preserved quagga skins.

The Quagga Project stud book plus photos of some beautiful individuals.

New quagga reconstruction, based on the mare at London Zoo The mare at London Zoo was the only living quagga that was photographed, and I used GIMP to do a coloured copy as accurate as possible, and I am satisfied with the result.

In this entry, I review the argumentation of the quagga project and give my personal opinion, i.e. that the quagga cannot be revived this way and that their zebras should be called “Rau zebras” instead of “Rau quaggas”.

This post presents a very time-consuming illustration of the coat colour variation within the preserved skins of quagga individuals.

Wild horse

The name “Tarpan” is a controversial and ambiguous one, and this post explains why. Nowadays I try to avoid this problematic term.

What the Tarpan looked like is a question that is not easy to answer, and I did a few weeks of research for this post and illustration. It is based on contemporaneous written accounts and scientific literature including modern genetic research.

The Tarpan that wasn't - the famous “Cherson Tarpan” which was photographed, a stallion of uncertain identity.

I took the effort to type all passages C.H. Smith wrote in his The Natural History of horses, with Memoir of Gesner (1841), with a short conclusion.

Where European wild horses dun-coloured or not? Another question that I approached by researching contemporaneous literature and modern genetic research. Recent publications might provide a little update – post upcoming.

This post is on the Pleistocene wild horse skeleton from Denmark, and I compared its skull to that of other horses and found that its skeleton seems to be identical to that of a Przewalski’s horse, not so much that of a Sorraia. The pictures in that post are gone, unfortunately.  

An arbitrary collection of horse breeds that I considered tarpan-like back then.

The Konik is not a breeding-back result I give a bit background info on the origin of the Konik, which is in fact not the result of a breeding-back project in the usual sense.

Defending the Konik against an unfair critique Title says everything. I don’t say that I have the truth in this entry, but just present the references I have and what extrapolations I made.

An introduction to the Heck horse, which amalgamates more and more with the Konik in Germany at least.

A collection of British ponies that I considered primitive back then, with some genetic and historic info.

Exmoor vs. Konik - which one is better? My opinion on that debate.

The Sorraia - is it a wild/ancient horse? In this entry, I took the arguments that Sorraia advocates use to give it a wild horse status and confront it with data from genetic studies, bone material and the breeds’ history, and draw my own conclusion on the nature of the Sorraia horse.

I checked my statement that the skulls of Sorraia horses are slim instead of robustly built by having a look at the Denmark skull and comparing it with some Sorraia heads. I came to the conclusion that the difference is not that big.

Subsequently, I did the same with the skulls of these three horses. The Exmoor and Konik skulls in this very small sample turned out to be quite alike.

Back then, the history of the Exmoor pony, especially as it is portrayed in Susan Baker’s book, made me presume that there was a kind of “British primitive horse”, a type or population of feral, primitive ponies that were once widespread in Great Britain and formed the base of most British pony landraces. The Exmoor pony would be the least diluted one, but is rather inbreed, so I suggested to build up a second gene pool using land ponies bred to resemble it.

Is the Exmoor less special than we used to think? A very interesting, down to earth publication from a few years ago put that “British primitive horse” idea strongly into question, and the Exmoor pony is seemingly not that special as we used to think.

Domestication, dedomestication and feral animals
A general post, that covers a number of feral horse and cattle populations to show that not only primitive landraces but also surprisingly derived domestic animals can feralize easily.

The dedomestication series:
I did a lot research on pleiotropic effects, developtmental cascades and endocrinological processes that might be related to domestication and the morphological changes that it causes, mainly inspired by the Farm fox experiment. I also had a look at feral populations of several species, especially the OVP Heck cattle, which I used as a model. With all that, I developed a concept on dedomestication and what implications it might have for breeding back. This concept, however, is on empirically weak grounds, also because dedomestication is an under-studied, neglected subject.

Markus Bühler corrected me on some things I wrote about feral pigs in my DeDo-series.

Piebald deer are interesting because they seemingly show the same mutations that cause the same piebald patterns in domestic mammals.

Domestication can change diet in mammals presents a paper that found that dogs differ from wolves in a number of genes involved in starch digestion and fat metabolism. Whether this is really caused by artificial selection or if dogs might inherited that traits from wild ancestors that differed from wolves already is a question treated in a separate post on dog domestication.

Aurochs horns at Oostvaardersplassen shows photos of Heck cattle at OVP that display an aurochs-like horn shape with an inwards-curve more strongly and elegantly expressed than in any Heck cattle outside the reserve. If it is a real trend, it is probably due to selective pressure for mechanically useful horns in intraspecific combats. Interestingly, only cows have truly inwards-curving horns yet it seems.


The extremely low genetic diversity in the gene pool of the wisent is a life-threatening danger for the whole species. In this entry I suggest that cloning ancient wisent from ancient DNA would greatly increase the genetic diversity and therefore greatly improve the health of the species.

Other species

A slightly grumpy review of the DVD-version of “De nieuwe wildernis”, a documentary film of Oostvaardersplassen.

The Tamaskan dog as a test for "breeding-back"Actually, the Tamaskan dog is rather similar to breeding-back attempts.

Hybridization is damned in species conservation, while over-purebreeding is enhancing inbreeding depression. In this article, I defend the Wisent population in the Caucasus and suggest to set up a third breeding like for wisents with controlled, planned American bison introgression. Also I propose that additional research should be done.

I consider the Wisent population in the Caucasus an important one, and you can donate for them on the link I provide in this post.

Is the wolf a domesticated dog or something different? I did some research on dog domestication, and the origin of the domestic dog might differ a little from the traditional scenario. It was one of those article that were fun to do because I had to dig through a lot of literature and it became rather long.

This post includes everything that I can say about Bubalus murrensis.

And this post includes everything that I can say about Equus hydruntinus.

Some colour morphs within the modern Plains zebra population.


I can't give a comprehensive description for all those articles because it would occupy too much space, therefore I mostly just put the links. 

Just for starters.

A little post on the aurochs’ head morphology.

Forelocks and manes were another characteristic trait of the aurochs’ head.

I did reconstructions of 22 aurochs horn pairs based on fossil/subfossil skulls.

Female aurochs remastered My reconstruction of the Sassenberg cow that I consider most accurate. 

In 2015 I asked paleoartist Joschua Knüppe to do an aurochs reconstruction because there is so few correct aurochs art: Aurochs bull by Joschua Knüppe

This is my most recent reconstruction of that enigmatic subspecies. I list what we know of the Indian aurochs and what I deduce for its life appearance.

My first reconstruction of B.p. indicus, and if a “breeding-back” project with zebu could be done.

A photo of a primitive-looking zebu cow from Sri Lanka provided by Jochen Ackermann; today I think it could be the result of taurine influence just as well.

I tried to develop a simple way to objectively score cattle breeds for their resemblance to the aurochs, which is rather tricky.

An article that became surprisingly popular (4500 clicks), with a conclusion that I still agree with.

A table of Heck cattle’s founding breeds, under the assumption that none of Lutz Hecks’ Berlin stock were included.

In 2013 I met with Walter Frisch, the creator of the Wörth/Steinberg line (Heck cattle special for sometimes superb horns and comparably stable) and took a look at his herd. It was very nice, and the post includes a lot of photos.

A short list of aurochs-like cattle that is surely not complete.

History lesson pt.I: Please stop claiming Heck cattle was bred using the Spanish fighting bull ... under the assumption that none of Lutz Hecks' Berlin stock contributed to the population post 1945. 

Taurus cattle in Hungary are an interesting but unfortunately less accessible population to me. 

Visiting Taurus cattle at Lippeaue, Germany. My firt trip to the Lippeaue. 

The skulls of two Taurus bulls I own the skulls of two Taurus bulls, and for this post I did a lot of anatomical comparing with aurochs skulls. Also with informative photos. 

We keep comparing living cattle with skeletons of the aurochs. Actually, that's comparing apples with bananas, therefore I tried to deduce what the skeletons of certain breeds would look like. 

Aurochs-like Italian cattle are somewhat overlooked. 

Inbreeding as an option to fixate aurochs traits? I elaborated an inbreeding-based breeding method to create a genetically homogeneous, as aurochs like as possible line to improve other herds. 

Hairless bison, yak and fluffy aurochs Just some anatomical sketches to better compare the morphology of those four species. 


  1. Congrats! Your next assignment: high time to write something about the repurcussions of the completed aurochs-genome. For instance in the summary I read something about modern british and irish breeds having more in common with the aurochs than other breeds.

    1. That article is on its way, might need one or two days more to finish it. ;-)

  2. Thanks for your great work!

  3. Quite agree, fascinating blog, and one I return to regularly. Keep up the good work.

  4. I think I have read most of your 200 articles. Thanks a lot for the work you put into this blog.