Posted by: Loren Coleman on April 21st, 2009
The aurochs or urus (Bos primigenius) was a very large type of cattle that was prevalent in Europe until its extinction in 1627.
Now a breed of giant cattle created by the Nazis can be seen in Britain for the first time after a farmer imported the huge creatures to graze conservation land.
The Heck Cattle (shown above) were created by Adolf Hitler’s geneticists because the dictator wanted to bring back to life the extinct aurochs, a legendary breed believed to be the size of a rhino.
The aurochs were hunted to extinction in the early 17th century and before the Second World War zoologist brothers Heinz and Lutz Heck attempt to bring them back by breeding from modern cattle.
They created the Heck breed but the animal was seen as a symbol of efforts to build a master Aryan race and most were destroyed after the war.
A small number survived and now 13 are living in Devon where farmer Derek Gow hopes to use them for grazing as well as in wildlife photography and film-making courses.
The 44-year-old, who runs Upcott Grange Farm near Lifton, said: “We will be breeding to create a small pedigree herd which will hopefully be used for nature conservation grazing.
“The Nazis wanted to recreate the auroch to evoke the power of the folklores and legends of the Germanic peoples.
“Aurochs were wild bulls, Julius Caesar recorded them as being bulls as big as elephants.
“Young men hunted these bulls as preparation for battle and leadership in war, but also to obtain these huge 6ft-wide horns that the bulls had as drinking vessels and war horns. They were huge trophies.”
Mr Gow said the bulls were used as a propaganda motif by the Fascist regime and the Heck was a mix of breeds from the Scottish Highlands, Corsica and the French Camargue, as well as Spanish fighting bulls.
He said: “The auroch was extinct, but domestic descendants – Friesians, Simmentals and everything else – were still kicking around the countryside.
“The two brothers argued that if the one wild animal that spawned all of these had gone, through a process of back-breeding domestic cattle, you could pull the wild genes out and recreate the ancestor.”
Mr Gow said his Heck cattle, which were quarantined, were much shorter than the aurochs, but they did retain the muscular build, deep brown complexion and shaggy, coffee-coloured fringe.
He said: “They look like the cave paintings of Lascaux and Altamira.
“It makes you think of the light of a tallow lamp and these huge bulls on these cave paintings leaping out at you from darkened walls.”
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