Painting Eyes on Cows' Butts will Keep Farmers from Shooting Lions

Trevor English

In what is probably the craziest headline I have ever written, actual advances in livestock protection are happening by scientists painting eyes on the butts of cows. The research is based upon the idea that farmers who are protecting their herd from lions, would shoot and kill lions in the efforts to protect their livestock. While this makes a lot of sense, it ends up resulting in many lion deaths that otherwise would have been unnecessary. Researchers at UNSW Australia, have been devising and testing a method of trickery to make lions think they are being watched by stamping eyes on cow butts.

cow eyes

This idea is based on the principle that lions and other predators are far less likely to attack when they feel they are being watched.

“As protected conservation areas become smaller, lions are increasingly coming into contact with human populations, which are expanding to the boundaries of these protected areas.” ~ Dr Neil Jordan, a conservation biologist from UNSW’s Centre for Ecosystem Science

While there are non-lethal methods for farmers to defend against lions, researchers have found that usually herdsmen turn to lethal force to retaliate against the death of their livestock. This has resulted in the dwindling of lion populations in certain regions where cattle farming in heavy, according to Science Alert. Causing the African lion to become a vulnerable species with only 23,000 to 39,000 adults estimated to still be alive. Efforts like painting eyes on cow butts may seem crazy at first, but they could make actual headway in the fight for conservation.

"If the tool works, it could provide farmers in Botswana – and elsewhere – with a low-cost, sustainable tool to protect their livestock, and a way to keep lions safe from retaliatory killing." ~ UNSW

eyes on cows

Lions are primarily ambush hunters, so when they feel their prey has spotted them, they usually give up on the hunt. The research team is currently testing their idea on a select herd of cattle. They have painted half of the cows with eyes and left others as normal. Through GPS tracking of both the herd and the lions in the area, they will be able to determine if their psychological trickery will work to help keep farmers from shooting lions.

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