05 May 2009

Keeping Europe Pleistoscene

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Heck bull

The Nazis were pretty bad, but they weren’t all bad. They invented the Volkswagen and the Superhighway. Leni Reifenstahl made terrific films, and Adolph Hitler was a superb designer of military uniforms. Hermann Goering, in his capacity as Reichsforst- und Jägermeister (Reich Master of the Forest and Hunt), was a keen conservationist eager not only to protect endangered species of big game, but ambitious enough to promote attempts at breeding backward in order to restore especially desirable extinct species, including most notably the aurochs (Bos primigenius).

Reuters reports that one British aficionado has brought a herd of the Heck cattle resulting from Hermann Goering’s breeding project to Britain. According to Wikipedia, there are roughly 2000 Heck cattle in Europe these days. The last known aurochs, a female, died in 1627 in the Jaktorów Forest in Masovia (Poland).

A conservationist has re-introduced to Britain a modern relative of the ancient ancestor to domesticated cattle.

The shaggy, russet-colored “Heck” cattle imported into Britain from The Netherlands by Derek Gow are the product of a Nazi-sponsored breeding program intended to bring back the aurochs,” an ancient beast mentioned by Julius Caesar, British newspapers reported on Wednesday.

The ancient species were immortalized tens of thousands of years ago in ochre and charcoal cave paintings in the Great Hall of the Bulls at Lascaux in southwest France.

The modern-day British herd brought to Devon, England is the product of Nazi breeding, an attempt to bring back the extinct aurochs, the last of which died of old age a Polish forest nearly four centuries ago. …

The herd has Herman Goering, the head of Hitler’s Luftwaffe, to thank for its existence. Goering hoped to recreate a primeval Aryan wilderness in the conquered territories of Eastern Europe. Two zoologist brothers, Lutz and Heinz Heck, took on the task of scouring Europe for the most primitive breeds of cattle they could find in the belief that by “back breeding” they could resurrect the extinct species.

Heinz Heck, based at Munich Zoo, cross-bred shaggy Highland cattle with animals from Corsica and Hungary, while his brother in Berlin was crossing Spanish and French fighting bulls. The success of the Hecks’ breeding program is as disputed as the techniques they used.

Hat tip to the News Junkie.


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