- Bos taurus Linnaeus, 1758
- Bos namadicus Falconer, 1859
- Bos mauretanicus Thomas, 1881
Value of species
The International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (2003) ruled that the name Bos primigenius for this wild species is not invalid by virtue of being antedated by the name based on the domestic form. Therefore, IUCN considers the wild species of Aurochs under the name Bos primigenius, while the domestic forms of cattle are considered under Bos taurus (see Gentry et al., 2004). Grubb (2005) lists B. primigenius as a subspecies of B. taurus, contrary to most authors, but we do not follow that arrangement here.
Bos primigenius is Extinct. The aurochs had three subspecies: Bos primigenius primigenius from Europe and the Middle East; B. p. namadicus from India; and B. p. mauretanicus from North Africa. Only the nominate subspecies has survived until recent times. Originally the aurochs occurred from the British Isles and southern Scandinavia, through most of Europe to northern Africa, the Middle East, central Asia and India. By the 13th century A.D., the aurochs' range was restricted to Poland, Lithuania, Moldova, Transylvania and East Prussia (The Extinction Website, 2007). The last recorded live aurochs, a female, died in 1627 in the Jaktorów (Jaktorowka) Forest, Masovia, Poland (Grubb, 2005).
It is distributed worldwide under domestication (as Bos taurus), and feral populations have become established in Australia, New Guinea, the United States, Colombia, Argentina and many islands, including Hawaii, Galápagos, Hispaniola, Tristan da Cunha, New Amsterdam, Juan Fernandez Islands, and the United Kingdom (Chillingham cattle).
The right to hunt large animals on any land was restricted to nobles and gradually to the royal household (The Extinction Website, 2007). As the population of aurochs declined, hunting ceased but the royal court still required gamekeepers to provide open fields for the aurochs to graze in (The Extinction Website, 2007). The gamekeepers were exempted from local taxes in exchange for their service and a decree made poaching an aurochs punishable by death (The Extinction Website, 2007), but this was not enough to save the species. In 1564, the gamekeepers knew of only 38 animals, according to the royal survey (The Extinction Website, 2007). The last recorded live aurochs, a female, died in 1627 in the Jaktorów Forest, Poland (The Extinction Website, 2007).
There is uncertainty about the habitat preferences of the aurochs. The species appears to have preferred swamps and swamp forests, such as river valleys, river deltas, and bogs, but it probably also lived in drier forests, and perhaps in open parkland (The Extinction Website, 2007). In Europe, there might have been an ecological separation between the preferred habitat of the aurochs and that of the European bison (Bison bonasus), with the aurochs lived in somewhat wetter forests and the European bison in the somewhat drier forests (The Extinction Website, 2007), though the niches of these two species almost certainly overlapped (Van Vuure, 2003).