16th-century illustration, believed to show an aurochs. Wikimedia Commons

The ancient aurochs cattle species is closer to being brought back to life thanks to European-wide science initiatives that continue to back-breed cattle still carrying the giant animal's DNA.

Aurochs roamed Europe for thousands of years until the last of the species died out in the 1600s, now numerous projects across the continent are trying to revive the species that could play a central part in European ecology.

Since 2009, scientists working on the projects have edged closer to re-introducing the primitive breed with each generation.

One scheme, named Operation Taurus, has back-bred 300 of the calves in Hungary and the Netherlands. "I don't think we'll ever be able to create an animal that is 100% like the aurochs, but we can get very close," Italian scientist, Professor Donato Matassino, told the Telegraph.

In Portugal, The Taurus Project has been similarly cross-breeding to recreate the mammal - the youngling proto-aurochs can be spotted as part of Faia Brava's attempts to restore the local ecology and create a safari-like experience.

Auroch skull. Thomas Quine/Creative Commons

The initiatives are all part of the Rewilding Europe project, a movement that wants to reintroduce Europe wild species.

"Wild cattle are one of the species that shaped the European landscape over hundreds of thousands of years," Rewilding Europe founder, Wouter Helmer, told the paper.

"If there are no large herbivores then the forest regenerates very fast. Big grazing animals keep patches of land open and create variety in the landscape which helps many thousands of species of plants, insects and animals."

Aurochs would not go unnoticed - they are 7 ft (213 cm) tall and weigh around 1,000kg (2204 lbs), so those working on the project are aware they might come up against opposition to reintroduction attempts. However, supporters argue that the reintroduction of ancient wild animals would not only help the environmental landscape, but also promote local tourism.

Aurochs are an important part of ancient European culture, having been depicted on early cave paintings found across the continent.