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HISTORY OF THE AUROCHS (BOS TAURUS PRIMIGENIUS) IN POLAND

  • Mieczyslaw Rokosz
Summary

In the present paper the author submits a short outline of the history of the aurochs in Poland, the country in which that species survived the longest. The last specimen died in the royal forests of Jaktorôw in Masovia at the beginning of the XVIIth century. The sources of the present study are as follows: documents proclaimed by kings, old chronicles, descriptions found in literature, old illustrations, etc. Among the reasons why that species of the relic fauna of the Pleistocene epoch survived so long are those the author draws attention to: i) the special natural conditions, i.e. abundance of forests and climate, offered in Poland, especially in early times, ii) some cultural elements, the latter being of special interest to him. The legal protection extended to the aurochs by the State found its expression in the regale or the king s order concerning hunting of these animals; this was strictly observed, as is pronouncedly recorded in the historical sources which say that in the XIIIth century the aurochs were to be found only in the province of Masovia. The local princes of the Piast dynasty, and later on the kings of Poland, made no concessions of their exclusive right to hunt that animal, not even to the greatest magnates, both ecclesiastical and secular. They themselves never abused the hunting law as far as the aurochs was concerned. Considering the situation of the aurochs in the light of that regale and of the hunting law, the conclusion is offered that the fact of excluding the aurochs from the hunting law and extending to it “a sacred privilege of immunity” which, according to an old custom, only the king was not obliged to obey, was the major factor which contributed to such a long period of survival of that species. This exceptional and almost personal care of the Polish sovereigns for these animals and their intentional will to save them for posterity caused the prolongation of the period of survival of that magnificent species up to the year 1627, in which the last auroch cow died a natural death in her haunts, as is stated in the report of the royal inspection performed in the year 1630.

L'article trace en grands traits l'histoire de l'auroch en Pologne; le pays où la survie de cette espèce a été la plus prolongée. Le dernier individu est mort dans les forêts royales de Jaktorôw en Masovie, au début du XVIIème siècle. Les sources bibliographiques utilisées pour cette étude ont été les arrêtés proclamé s par les rois, les vieilles chroniques, les descriptions littéraires, les anciennes illustrations, etc. Parmi les raisons pour lesquelles cette espèce, vestige de faune de l'époque Pléistocène, a pu survivre si longtemps, l'auteur signale: i) les conditions spéciales naturelles offertes par la Pologne, comme l'abondance des forêts et le climat favorable, surtout dans le passé; et ii) quelques aspects culturels qui l'on favorisé, comme la protection légale donnée à l'auroch par l'Etat, sous forme d'arrêté royal en matière de chasse de ces animaux. Cette loi était étroitement observée, ce qui est bien documenté dans les sources historiques qui indiquent qu'au XIIIème siècle l'auroch se trouvait seulement dans la province de Masovia. Les princes locaux de la dynastie Piast, et puis encore les rois de la Pologne, ne concédaient aucun droit de chasse sur cette espèce, ni aux magnats les plus hauts, ni ecclésiastiques, ni séculiers. Eux-mêmes ne faisaient jamais aucun abus de la loi de chasse en ce qui concernait l'auroch. Grâce à cette loi et au “droit sacré d'immunité”, droit que seul le roi, suivant un usage ancien, n'était pas obligé à obéir, cette espèce a pu survivre plus longtemps. Les soins exceptionnels et tout à fait personnels offerts par les souverains polonais à ces animaux, ainsi que leur désire de les garder pour la postérité, ont assuré la survie de cette magnifique espèce jusqu'en 1627, quand la dernière auroch femelle est morte dans son antre selon témoignage du rapport de l'inspection royale de l'an 1630.

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