Study confirms that painting eyes on cow butts helps ward off predators

There’s no silver bullet, but “eye-cow” technique is one available tool for farmers.

Cattle herds in the Okavango delta region in Botswana are plagued by attacks by lions and other predators, prompting farmers to retaliate by killing the predators. An alternative nonlethal technique involves painting eyes on the butts of cattle to trick ambush predators like lions into thinking they’ve been spotted by their intended prey. It’s called the “Eye-Cow Project,” and a recent paper published in the journal Communications Biology provides some solid empirical evidence for the practice. There are now practical guides for using the “eye-cow” technique available in both English and Setswana, so farmers can try it out for themselves.

Neil Jordan, a conservation biologist at the University of New South Wales in Australia, came up with the idea several years ago while he was doing field work in Botswana. Local farmers killed a pair of lionesses in retaliation for preying on their herds of cattle, and Jordan wanted to come up with a non-lethal alternative. The African lion population has dropped significantly from more than 100,000 in the 1990s to somewhere between 23,000 and 39,000 in 2016—much of it due to retaliation killings.

Jordan knew that butterfly wings sporting eye-like patterns are known to ward off preying birds and are also found in certain fish, mollusks, amphibians and birds, although such patterns had not been observed in mammals. He also discovered that woodcutters in Indian forests have been known to wear masks on the backs of their heads to discourage any tigers hunting for prey. He had observed a lion stalking an impala and noticed the predator gave up the chase when the prey spotted it. Lions are ambush hunters, Jordan reasoned, and he decided to test his “detection hypothesis” that painting eyes on the butts of cows would discourage predatory behavior from the local lion population.

The Botswana Predator Conservation Trust (BPCT) agreed to work with Jordan on the project, along with a local farmer, for a ten-week pilot study. Jordan and the farmer painted eyes on one-third of a herd of 62 cattle and took a head count when the cattle returned to the fold each night to see how many had survived. Only three cows were killed during that period, none of which had painted eyes on their butts. All the painted cows survived.

Granted, it was a small sample size, but those results were encouraging enough to convince Jordan to conduct a more ambitious study over the last four years. His team worked with local farmers in the Okavango delta region, painting the cattle in 14 herds (a total of 2,061 animals). They used acrylic paint (black and white or yellow), applied with foam stencils in the shapes of the inner and outer “eye.” The colors were chosen “because of their highly contrasting and aposematic features, common in natural anti-predator signaling settings,” the authors wrote.

Roughly one-third of the cattle in each herd got the eye patterns, one-third got simple cross-marks, and one-third weren’t painted at all. The results confirmed Jordan’s preliminary findings. Cattle with the painted eyes on their rumps were significantly more likely to survive than those cattle that had crosses painted on their butts and those that [ … ]

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Posted by hamper

If you are reading this, you might be a conspiracy theorist

Bacteria live despite burial in seafloor mud for 100 million years