A new study finds that a colorful method of protecting cattle from predators and predators from people may work. Farmers in northern Botswana allowed their cows to roam and graze during the day, which put livestock at risk from lions, leopards, and other carnivores. The village will often search for the big cat when a farmer loses a cow. It’s one of the reasons lion populations in Africa have plummeted in recent decades. But what did they paint on the cows to prevent lion attacks?
Botswana researchers experimented to reduce the number of lion attacks on cows. They painted large eyes on the backsides of the cows. After several years, they found that painted cows had fewer to zero attacks compared to unpainted cows.
How Did Butt Painting on Cows Reduce Attacks?
The Botswana Predator Conservation Trust (BPCT) agreed to collaborate with Jordan on the project for a ten-week pilot study, along with a local farmer. Jordan and the farmer painted eyes on one-third of a herd of 62 cattle and counted how many survived when the cattle returned to the fold each night. Only three cows were killed during that time, and none had painted eyes on their buttocks. The painted cows were all saved.
Although the sample size was small, the results were encouraging enough to persuade Jordan to conduct a larger study over the next four years. His team collaborated with Okavango delta farmers to paint 14 herds of cattle, a total of 2,061 animals. The authors wrote that the colors were chosen because of their highly contrasting and aposematic features, common in natural anti-predator signaling settings, and applied with foam stencils in the inner and outer eye shapes.
Jordan was aware that butterfly wings with eye-like patterns are known to ward off predatory birds and are also found in certain fish, mollusks, amphibians, and birds, though such patterns in mammals had not been observed. He also discovered that in Indian forests, woodcutters had been known to wear masks on their heads to deter tigers from hunting for prey. He had seen a lion stalking an impala and noticed that the predator gave up the chase when the prey spotted it. Jordan reasoned that lions are ambush hunters and decided to test his detection hypothesis that painting eyes on cow buttocks would discourage predatory behavior from the local lion population. (Source: CNet)
The Inspiration Behind the Scare Tactic
Painting eyes on animal buttocks to scare off predators was an idea used in the children’s story about the character Babar, who paints eyes on elephant rear flanks to scare off rhinoceroses threatening to attack.
Whether the scientists were inspired by the children’s story or came up with the idea on their own, painting eyes on cow buttocks could help farmers save money and time in protecting their livestock.
The eye-cow technique is one of a number of tools that can prevent carnivore-livestock conflict, but no single tool is likely to be a silver bullet. Indeed we need to do much better than a silver bullet if we are to ensure the successful coexistence of livestock and large carnivores. But we’re hoping this simple, low-cost, non-lethal approach could reduce the costs of coexistence for those farmers bearing the bruntNeil Jordan, Author from University of New South Wales in Sydney
Image from iflscience