As any dog owner knows, putting eyes on your pup’s rear and pretending their tail is a nose is a source of much hilarity. But in Botswana, cattle farmers are harnessing this gag for good, in order to protect their cattle — both family food source and livelihood — from predation by local lions.
A four-year-long international study of cow/lion coexistence in the southern African nation has shown that stenciling large feline eyes on the back ends of cattle spooks lions into thinking their stealthy cover is blown — thereby sparing the life of the cow! From Gastro Obscura:
“‘We chose herds that had previously reported higher depredation rates, so we knew lions were a problem for them already,’ says [field researcher Cameron] Radford. Of the group, roughly a third were given a pair of furrowed, acrylic-painted eye-spots (‘We were going for the intimidation factor,’ says Radford), another third were left unmarked, and the remaining third received simple cross-marks. While 15 unmarked cows and four cross-marked cows were killed by predators, not one of the cows with eye-spots over the four-year study became big-cat food.”
Initially skeptical, the cattle farmers who had “donated” their herds to the study were soon converted, and eagerly adopted the low-cost method of keeping their cows safe. (In addition to themselves, and the lions: Retaliatory killings of the vulnerable big cats after cattle attacks were common.) This also safeguards their economic niche — cattle farming is the most profitable agricultural activity in Botswana, and over 95% of their beef is exported to other markets.
So it seems cattle/lion/farmer interactions are much like those between any other creatures — one part managing expectations, one part sleight of hand! I love the simple elegance of the study’s solution. And, as a BBQ fan, I’m glad the beef is saved!