Over 2,000 cows were involved in the four-year-long study.
How do you protect cattle from the wrath of lions and leopards? Let's just say it's quite the sight to behold!
A study conducted by UNSW Sydney, Taronga Conservation Society Australia, and Botswana Predator Conservation revealed that cows with eyes painted on their rumps were less likely to be attacked by predators than those without them.
The paper, published in Communications Biology, outlines the effect of marking cattle with painted eyes in the Okavango delta region in Botswana as a low-cost, non-dangerous method to protect herds and conserve predator species in the long run. Researchers completed a trial run back in 2016 before committing to the four-year study.
A myriad of problems arise when it comes to cattle predation, and it's not just relegated to the cows. Farmers aiming to protect their herds have limited options to thwart attacks that aren't deadly, like poisoning and shooting the animals in question. As a result, the conservation of predator populations, like lions and leopards, are affected. Farmers also bear the economic brunt associated with the loss of livestock from these attacks, which becomes a lose-lose for all involved.
Painting eyes on the rumps of livestock can protect them from lion attacks, a @UNSWScience study with @tarongazoo and @BPCTcamp has shown. 🐄 👁 https://t.co/FSO6h8PEgj— UNSW (@UNSW) August 11, 2020
📷 : Cameron Radford pic.twitter.com/0BMTgFok86
So where do the painted rears come in? Enter Dr. Neil Jordan, a researcher from the University of New South Wales and Taronga Western Plains Zoo. He spearheaded the idea after observing a lion run away from an impala who looked their way. According to Jordan, predatory animals like lions depend on surprising their prey when going in for the kill. If an animal returns their gaze during the hunt, they flee the scene altogether.
“We tested whether we could hack into this response to reduce livestock losses, potentially protecting lions and livelihoods at the same time,” he said in a statement.
So how did it work? Researchers conducted the experiment on 2,061 cattle total across 14 herds. One third were painted with eye-marks, while another third received two cross-marks. The last group went without any markings. Cows dwelled in their enclosures fenced off from possible threats of African wild dogs, lions, and cheetahs.
The result? Turns out bedazzled bums made a difference. None of the eye-marked cows—683 of them—were preyed upon during the study, compared to 15 of the 835 unmarked and four cross-marked that didn't survive. Of the predators, lions were most vicious; they killed 18 cows altogether.
Though Jordan's initial ideas on the outcome were accurate, there were a couple of things they weren't expecting to see.
“Cattle marked with simple crosses were significantly more likely to survive than were un-marked cattle from the same herd. Although eye-marked cattle were more likely to survive than the other groups, this general ‘conspicuousness’ effect suggests that novel cross-marks were better than no marks at all, which was unexpected.”
Researchers can't say for sure the effectiveness of the method long-term. It's possible for predators to get used to the sight of painted rear-ends, and the study's findings did not account for the role of unmarked cows in the vicinity of marked ones, who Jordan referred to as the "sacrificial lambs" of the study. Overall it seems promising for the issues of species conservation, predators, and prey alike.
What do you think of this study? Does the solution seem promising for the long term? Let's hear your thoughts in the comments!