The aurochs (Bos urns) appears to exist still in the forests of the western Caucasus.
According to the German Freiherr von Herberstein (1486-1566), in his Moscovia, of which an Italian translation was published at Venice in 1550, the aurochs survived in Poland (and probably also in Hungary) during the latter middle ages.
In this work appear woodcuts - rude but characteristic and unmistakable - of two distinct types of European wild cattle; one the aurochs, or ur, and the other the bison.
It has indeed been suggested that the figure of the aurochs was taken from a domesticated ox, but this is a mistaken idea.
Not the least important feature of the work of Herberstein is the application of the name aurochs to the wild ox, as distinct from the bison.
The locality where aurochs survived in Herberstein's time was the forest of Jaktozowka, situated about 55 kilometres west-south-west of Warsaw, in the provinces of Bolemow and Sochaczew.
From other evidence it appears that the last aurochs was killed in this forest in the year 1627.
Herberstein describes the colour of the aurochs as black, and this is confirmed by another old picture of the animal.
Gesner's figure of the aurochs, or as he calls it "thur," given in the Icones to his History of Animals, was probably adapted from Herberstein's.
As a wild animal, then, the aurochs appears to have ceased to exist in the early part of the 17th century; but as a species it survives, for the majority of the domesticated breeds of European cattle are its descendants, all diminished in point of size, and some departing more widely from the original type than others.
Aurochs' calves were in all probability captured by the early inhabitants of Britain and the continent and tamed; and from these, with perhaps an occasional blending of wild blood, are descended most European breeds of cattle.
In the shape and curvature of the horns, which at first incline outwards and forwards, and then bend somewhat upwards and inwards, this breed of cattle resembles the aurochs and the (by comparison) dwarfed park-breeds.
The Pembroke and park-cattle are, however, by no means the sole descendants of the aurochs, the black Spanish fighting-bulls claiming a similar descent.
From the aurochs (zimbru), in pursuit of which Dragosh first arrived on the banks of the Moldova, is derived the ox-head of the Moldavian national arms, and from his favourite hound who perished in the waters the name of the river.
The aurochs was a black animal, with a lighter dorsal streak, and horns directed upwards in the shape of a pitchfork, black at their tips, but otherwise whitish.
The great white or cream coloured cattle of Italy, Austria, Hungary and Poland, which have very long black-tipped horns, are also probably not far removed from the aurochs stock.
On the other hand, the great tawny draught cattle of Spain seem to indicate mixture with a different stock, the horns having a double curvature, quite different from the simple one of the aurochs type.
Remains of the wild ox or aurochs are abundant in the superficial deposits of Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa; those from the brick-earths of the Thames valley indicating animals of immense proportions.