Middle East ungulate history

This video says about itself:

This rare sighting of a Caracal (Felis caracal) in southern Israel was captured on film! 2005. Hazeva, Israel.

From PLoS ONE:

Distribution and Extinction of Ungulates during the Holocene of the Southern Levant

Ella Tsahar1, Ido Izhaki, Simcha Lev-Yadun, Guy Bar-Oz



The southern Levant (Israel, Palestinian Authority and Jordan) has been continuously and extensively populated by succeeding phases of human cultures for the past 15,000 years. The long human impact on the ancient landscape has had great ecological consequences, and has caused continuous and accelerating damage to the natural environment. The rich zooarchaeological data gathered at the area provide a unique opportunity to reconstruct spatial and temporal changes in wild species distribution, and correlate them with human demographic changes.


Zoo-archaeological data (382 animal bone assemblages from 190 archaeological sites) from various time periods, habitats and landscapes were compared. The bone assemblages were sorted into 12 major cultural periods. Distribution maps showing the presence of each ungulate species were established for each period.


The first major ungulate extinction occurred during the local Iron Age (1,200–586 BCE), a period characterized by significant human population growth. During that time the last of the largest wild ungulates, the hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus), aurochs (Bos primigenius) and the hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) became extinct, followed by a shrinking distribution of forest-dwelling cervids.

A second major wave of extinction occurred only in the 19th and 20th centuries CE. Furthermore, a negative relationship was found between the average body mass of ungulate species that became extinct during the Holocene and their extinction date. It is thus very likely that the intensified human activity through habitat destruction and uncontrolled hunting were responsible for the two major waves of ungulate extinction in the southern Levant during the late Holocene.

A team of researchers from the University of Haifa have stumbled upon a rare desert plant living in Israel’s mountainous Negev desert, which can irrigate itself: here.

September 2012. For hundreds of thousands of years Aurochs were a feature of the European wilderness. Since the death of the last aurochs in 1627 in the Jaktorow game preserve in Poland, it seemed that Europe has lost this key species forever. However European Wildlife, in cooperation with the Dutch Taurus Foundation, is planning to return Aurochs to the mountains of Central Europe: here.

6 thoughts on “Middle East ungulate history

  1. Giant cows bred back from extinction

    Italian scientists to ‘recreate’ forerunner to modern cattle

    13 January, 18:36

    Giant cows bred back from extinction (ANSA) – Benevento, January 13 – Extinct, giant cattle that once roamed the fields of Europe could graze again according to a team of Italian scientists at the forefront of a project to breed the ancient beast back into existence.

    The forerunner to all modern cattle, the hulking Auroch averaged a metric tonne in weight dwarfing even the largest steers known today.

    According to Donato Matassino of the Consortium for Experimental Biotechnology in Benevento, the last known specimen died in the forests of Poland in 1627, leaving behind its smaller, gentler descendants.

    Mattisino explained the project to revive the Auroch is based on a scientifically controversial technique called ”breeding back”.

    Scientists will attempt to recreate the Auroch through a process of selective breeding between cattle with different elements of its genetic makeup.

    The experiment was attempted before by a pair of German zookeepers in 1930-40s with the dedicated sponsorship of a Nazi government eager to put its theories about eugenics and racial superiority into practice.

    The result are a still rare variety known as Heck cattle, a breed physically similar to the Aurochs, but genetically very different.

    According to Mattassino, this is the first attempt to back breed the ancient stock with the use of modern genetics.

    ”We were able to analyze Auroch DNA from preserved bone material and create a rough map of its genome that should allow us to breed animals nearly identical to Aurochs,” he said.

    ”We’ve already made our first round of crosses between three breeds native to England, Spain and Italy. Now we just have to wait and see how the calves turn out”.

    Mattasino called the endeavor a ”long-term project” explaining that breeding back can take several years before the sought after genes come together in a single generation.

    But he said it was worth the wait, as large Auroch cows would produce more milk and yield more meat per acre.

    Ornery creatures with long horns and short tempers, Aurochs were phased out by early-modern farmers in favour of their more docile kin.

    But Mattisino argued that ”today, our focus is sustainability and bigger animals will be a help with that”.

    Launched in 2008, the Italian project is one of two in Europe to resuscitate the storied breed.

    Another, in Poland where the bull is a national symbol, aims at cloning the bull from DNA gleaned from the 300-year-old skull of the last known Auroch.


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