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article imageDevon farmer forced to get rid of aggressive Nazi-bred super cows

By Karen Graham     Jan 5, 2015 in Science
Derek Gow, a farmer in Lifton, Devon thought it would be a great idea to import 13 "Heck" cattle from Belgium in 2009. The cattle are linked to the extinct European wild ox, the Auroch, a massive distant relative to the cattle we know today.
When farmer Gow, the father of two children, brought the Heck cattle to his Upcott Grange Farm, it was the very first time that the once extinct creatures had set foot on British soil since the Iron Age. The Auroch-like Heck cattle were brought back to life by Nazi scientists in the 1930s.
The Heck cattle did well on Gow's farm, and the herd grew from 13 to 20 cattle. They all had the characteristic muscular build and deep brown coats with a long, shaggy dark coffee-colored fringe. They are a little shorter than the original Aurochs, says Gow. But Gow says he has never worked with such an aggressive breed.
"I have worked with a range of different animals from bison to deer and I have never come across anything like these. They are by far and away the most aggressive animals I have ever worked with," Gow said. "Some were perfectly calm and quiet and they are the ones we have kept. The others you could not go near."
The aggressive Heck cattle were sent to the abattoir, leaving the Gow farm peaceful once again with just six cattle. He said: "The ones we had to get rid of would just attack you any chance they could. They would try to kill anyone. Dealing with that was not a lot of fun at all." Gow says the meat will be turned into sausages and sold in Europe. Gow says the meat is very tasty, and a bit like beef and venison, and is low in cholesterol.
Gow brought the cattle to the UK to study and to photograph. He claims they have little commercial value, but from a conservation aspect, they are quite valuable. He says that since the aggressive animals are gone, peace reigns supreme again. He has no regrets, and said the history of the Heck cattle is fascinating.
The Aurochs is the ancient relative of the modern cow
The Aurochs, (Bos primigenius), had quite a time finding its place in modern Taxonomy. They were at different times classified as Bos primigenius, Bos taurus, or, in old sources, Bos urus. But in 2003, the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature confirmed the name Bos primigenius for the aurochs.
Aurochs bull at the Zoological Museum in Copenhagen from 7400 BC.
Aurochs bull at the Zoological Museum in Copenhagen from 7400 BC.
What is interesting about the classification story is this: If we consider modern day cattle a sub-species of the Aurochs, we can classify them as Bos primigenius taurus. If we label modern day cows as a separate species, we classify them as Bos taurus, During the Holocene period on earth, about 11,700 to 12,000 years ago, two aurochs domestication events took place. One involved the Indian subspecies leading to Zebu cattle. The other was related to the Eurasian subspecies of Taurines.
But even so, cattle today still share some characteristics of the Aurochs, like the dark coat of bulls, or the forward and inner curving horns. At one time, Aurochs roamed widely across Europe, Northern Africa, the Middle East and parts of Eastern China. The very last Aurochs to go extinct was a female who died in 1627 in the Jaktorów Forest, Poland, from natural causes. There is a monument to this last Aurochs, standing today in the forest.
A painting by Heinrich Harder showing an aurochs fighting off a Eurasian Wolf pack.
A painting by Heinrich Harder showing an aurochs fighting off a Eurasian Wolf pack.
Heinrich Harder (1858-1935)
The Third Reich's attempt to resurrect the Aurochs
One characteristic of Nazi ideology was the belief in their Germanic past, a time of greatness, prosperity and national pride. In an attempt to recapture some of that distant past, forests were reseeded with plants and trees like the thick forested lands of the old days. But to complete the picture, Adolph Hitler wanted the animals in the forests, like the ones in Germanic tales.
This meant finding European bison, deer, boars, elk, and the Aurochs. Michael Wang, writing in Cabinet Magazine, described the project taken on by Heinz and Lutz Heck. both respected zoologists in the 1920s. Through the use of artworks, museum, and library manuscripts, the brothers formulated a plan that would involve interbreeding known species of cattle with similar characteristics of the Aurochs.
Bison hiding in Białowieża Forest.
Bison hiding in Białowieża Forest.
Herr stahlhoefer
The neo-aurochs were turned loose in Poland's Bialowiez˙a forest. Then came WWII, and the animals were forgotten. After the war, with the revision of Poland's borders, it was almost impossible to round up and corral the animals and many of them perished. But not all died. Now called heck cattle, they can be found in a number of farms in Germany, Europe, and now, the United Kingdom.
More about Heck cattle, Aurochs, Nazi supercow, Agressive nature, wild cattle
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