(CNN)Our ancestors learned to respect the auroch, and immortalized them in pre-historic cave paintings.
The earliest cows were mighty beasts that stood almost as tall as elephants, with lean, powerful frames and fearsome horns that would make a hunter think twice.
For thousands of years the aurochs were the largest land mammals in Europe, until the rise of human civilization decimated their numbers, and the last of the species died in Poland in 1627 — one of the first recorded cases of extinction.
Conservationists now believe the loss of the keystone herbivore was tragic for biodiversity in Europe, arguing that the aurochs’ huge appetite for grazing provided a natural “gardening service” that maintained landscapes and created the conditions for other species to thrive.
The theory is now being put to the test, as a “near 100% substitute” of the beast is returned to the forests.