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The issue of marauding lions (and other large predators) killing farmers' cattle in northern Botswana is a serious one, but it appears to have a lighthearted solution. In a four-year project, researchers worked with the region's farmers to test a hypothesis: cows with eyes painted on their bottoms would deter the big cats, and be more likely to survive.
The thinking was that since big cats are ambush predators that stalk their prey, they will be less likely to attack if the element of surprise is lost, hence the "eyes" looking back at them from the cow's rump. The researchers tested their theory on 2,061 cows across 14 herds that foraged out in the open during the daytime, painting some of the cows' bottoms with eyes and others with crosses, while the rest were left untouched.
As they suspected, those with eyespots had a much higher survival rate by the end of the four years. None with eyespots were killed during that time, as opposed to four cows with crosses and 15 cows without markings.
Eyes on the prize:
- Not only is this a major win for the farmers, but lions and leopards can benefit too, as they will be less likely to be hunted and killed if they stay away from the cattle, thus helping maintain their population numbers.
- A potential flaw in the study was that the marked and unmarked cows were in the same herds, so the predators had an easy alternative to the cows with eyes on their bottoms.
- Many animal species have naturally evolved eyespots to protect themselves from predators, including moths and butterflies.