'Frankenbull' to rise from the dead

A HERD of Highland cattle is to be used in a bid to bring a prehistoric super-bull back almost 400 years after they were hunted to extinction.

• The prehistoric auroch super-bulls were once plentiful in Europe and the UK, but were hunted to extinction 400 years ago

Aurochs stood six feet tall at the shoulder and weighed nearly a ton. It could feed a whole tribe and still provide leftovers.

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Now an international project plans to bring the beasts back, with the help of Scotland's own Highland cattle.

Centuries after the last of the species walked the land, scientists are hoping DNA from the iconic ginger breed will be the key to bringing the animal back from extinction.

The plan is to cross the Scottish livestock, which share many of the same genes as their mighty predecessor, with other cattle to eventually 'resurrect' the ancient beast.

A herd of Highland cattle in Holland will be used to provide stock for the project, which involves Dutch and Italian scientists, with the first mixed-breed calf being born in February.

When it matures, it will be mated to produce further offspring - with each successive generation moving closer and closer to a pure-bred aurochs.

The breed were famed for their hardiness and could be used to provide a plentiful food source in areas where cattle struggle to thrive.

Henri Kerkdiijk, a researcher with the project, said: "Highland cattle are perfect for the project because they share many similar characteristics to the aurochs.

"They are a hardy breed with a strong social structure, but are not aggressive and can range free without endangering the public.

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"Physically, they have the same wide horns as the aurochs and possess the same colour genes, which is very important because, if you want to recreate the aurochs, you want to get the colour right for a start."

Aurochs were once plentiful in Europe and the UK, but were hunted to extinction 400 years ago. The last specimen, a female, died in the forests of Poland in 1627.

But enough bones and relics remain for scientists to work out the animals' DNA genome, which can be compared to that of existing ‘primitive' cattle.

Alongside Highland cattle, the project is using the Italian Primitivo Maremmano and Spanish Pajuna breeds, although the Scottish cow is at the start of the chain.

The scheme, dubbed ‘Project Tauros', is being run in conjunction with Wageningen University in the Netherlands and the European Cattle Genetic Diversity Consortium.

It is the second time researchers have tried to bring back the aurochs - an attempt was also made by scientists working at the behest of the Nazis.

Hitler decided to recreate the beast, which featured heavily in German folklore, but the resulting Heck cattle were much smaller than the aurochs and were aggressive and difficult to control.

Julius Caesar mentioned the aurochs in his account of the conquest of Gaul, saying it was as big as an elephant.

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The Dutch plan to use the recreated cattle as a "wilderness management" animal which will roam free in nature parks.

But Hazel Baxter, secretary of the Highland Cattle Association, believes that there is little point in bringing the aurochs back from the dead.

She said: "If they want a hardy animal that can breed and survive under adverse conditions, then you already have Highland cattle."

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