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Long Lost Animals in the British Isles.

Updated on February 13, 2018
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Asp52 has a keen interest in the natural world and has wrote many articles about the fragile nature of the marine environment.

Extinction Through Human Habitation.


The British Isles were at certain points in time connected to larger bodies of land such as mainland Europe via the now submerged Doggerland. When the sea levels rose to their modern levels, the new Islands made the existing creatures adapt to the fresh environmental circumstances. Over the years many of these creatures failed to adapt and were replaced by more versatile versions of their species or they fell prey to a growing human population.

We have numerous fossils from all across the British Isles and from them, we are able to theorize their dietary requirements and how they interacted with the early hunter gatherers. There were many creatures that were once native to the British Isles but due to a number of factors, they are now no longer part of the natural environment.


Evidence in Museums.

The skeletal remains of an Irish Elk.
The skeletal remains of an Irish Elk. | Source

The Irish Elk


We have fossil records that proves a large Elk with antlers spanning over 10 feet existed in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. These creatures thrived at a time when Ireland was a landscape of rolling grasslands and possessed an absence of thick woodlands. Outside of the British Isles, the giant deer would have roamed much of Europe, and its skeleton can be found across much of the continent. Because the best finds have been found in Irish Bogs, the name of the animal has stuck.

This giant animal grew to over two metres in height and the teeth suggest that the creature lived on a heavy diet of wild grasses. The giant antlers meant that the animal had to evolve a strong muscular and skeletal structure to accommodate the additional weight of the antlers. It is theorized that the Irish Elk died out because it was unable to adapt to dwindling supplies of its specific food supply. The grasslands of the British Isles were gradually replaced by ancient forests. The Irish Elks with their cumbersome antlers were unable to negotiate the new woodlands and were deprived of its alternative sources of food. Smaller species of Deer took advantage of the Irish Elk's inability to react to change and the Irish Elk soon became lost forever.





Aurochs


The Auroch first appeared in the fossil records around 2 million years ago and they are believed to have evolved from the Eurasian breed. The Aurochs would have naturally spread into Europe and Asia. Aurochs are believed to be the common ancestor of modern cattle. The last wild European Auroch is thought to have been killed in the 17th century. The beast was shot in a Polish Forest and its horn was taken as a trophy by a local noble. Although it could be argued this creature is not truly extinct due to the existence of domestic breeds of cattle, it is not identical to the cows we have in pasture. Although by selectively breeding from rarer breeds, would present an offspring that would share much of the lost creatures physical characteristics.

The Auroch would have fallen out of favour in the British Isles as more modern breeds would have possessed a better temperament, higher production of milk and a leaner meat. The Auroch would have been used as a working animal, but it would have lacked the obedience of a horses or oxen.The Aurochs were a beast of burden and they became symbolised by the pagan Norse with their own runic letter.

The Auroch with its horns, stood over 2 metres in height. It would have weighed close to 3,000 lb. The British Auroch fed on a mixture of grasses, twigs and acorns when it lived in the wild. The creature would have lived in a wetter environment than the woodlands that our domesticated farm cattle used to inhabit. Although technically extinct, the Polish Government plans to use DNA from Museum specimens to breed a wild version of the creature for tourism. Although there are no plans to reintroduce the British Auroch back into the wild.



Woolly Rhinoceros.


The Woolly Rhinoceros was well adapted to the Ice Age conditions of the British Isles. With its thick woolly hide, it was able to search out its favoured food in the most inhospitable of environments. It roamed the rolling grasslands and arid tundra of the area, feeding on heavy mouthfuls of grass and flowering vegetation. The Woolly Rhino would migrate to keep its distance from the ever shifting glaciers of the time.

The Woolly Rhinoceros would have migrated in groups and would have shared the tundra of the British Isles with Woolly Mammoths. The size of the creature would have been comparable to a modern day White Rhino and its horn would have been for mating displays and defensive actions. Weighing as much as 7,000 lb, the creature would have had to spend much of its life eating. It's extinction would be due to lack of food sources after the creatures became trapped in isolated areas due to advancing sea levels and climate change. The beast was also at risk to a rise in natural predators and the hunters who took to tracking their migration routes. This powerful creature were thought to have become extinct about 8,000 years ago.


The Original British Big Cat.

Eurasian Lynx
Eurasian Lynx | Source

Eurasian Lynx


It had been thought that the Eurasian Lynx became extinct in the British Isles about 10,000 years ago. Other experts came to the belief that they had finally died out about 4,000 years ago, during a time when a cooler and wetter climate occured. Recent scientific and forensic investigations have shed more light on the longevity of this creature. Carbon dating of Lynx skulls taken from the National Museums of Scotland and from caves excavated from Yorkshire, show that they were still active in the British Isles until at least 425 AD. Nearly 3,500 years later than the date of extinction than some experts had predicted.

The Eurasian Lynx would have preyed upon members of the rodent family, small deer and any other creature that it could attack with stealth and speed. The creature would have been hunted to critical levels by the Human hunters that entered its natural habitat. We know the Celtic-Romano peoples of the British Isles had a native name for the animal. They called it a Lox and the name even existed in Old English so the Lynx may have lasted until as much as a thousand years ago. There is currently some interest in reintroducing the Lynx into Scotland and other parts of rural Britain to control nuisance populations of invasive deer.


Human Habitation in the Bronze Age.

The spread of man, impacted other native animals.
The spread of man, impacted other native animals. | Source

Grice.


The Grice was a domesticated pig which became extinct in the 1900's. The pig was native to the British Isles for a long period of history but it was eventually replaced by superior breeds of the species. The remaining Grice population were confined to the remote areas of Ireland, Scotland and the Shetland Islands. In these remote and rural areas, the noisy and aggressive creature were kept to feed the family.

The pig was smaller than a modern farm yard breed and as well as being aggressive, it was also noisy and a nuisance. Many neighbours would fallout over the keeping of these creatures for the table. The Grice would forage on bulbs and roots for their meals. They would be extremely partial to swede,potato and carrots.

The name Grice is derived from Old English and Scandinavian. The creature was excellent for making cured Hams. This would explain why those in remote locations persisted with the troublesome beast for longer than the more urban population. The creature shared many characteristics with the wild boar, it had small tusks and great strength for its smaller size. The breed died out as it was just too troublesome when compared to the more domesticated farm breeds.


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The fossil record for the British Isles highlights the variety of animals that have become extinct over hundreds and thousands of years. Crocodiles, tigers and Hippopotamus are believed to have been native to the British Isles over the last hundred thousand years. Many local museums have the skeletal remains of many weird and varied animals.

The change in climate and the increased need for animal protein, saw many creatures die out, without any hope of the species returning. The British Isles is home to very few large native species and those that survived, only did so as they served a purpose for the human inhabitants of the land.


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