Why lions are less likely to
attack cattle with eyes painted
on their backsides
Neil R Jordan, 2 Cameron Radford and
Current Addresses: 1 Lecturer, University of New South Wales (UNSW), 2 PhD Candidate, UNSW and
Associate professor of evolution and ecology, UNSW
Reprinted From: https://bit.ly/2GrQtk5
The predation of livestock by carnivores
and the retaliatory killing of
carnivores, as a result, is a major
global conservation challenge. Such
human-wildlife conflicts are a key driver
of large carnivore declines and the costs
of coexistence are often disproportionately
borne by rural communities in the
While current approaches tend to focus
on separating livestock from wild carnivores,
for instance through fencing or
lethal control, this is not always possible
or desirable. Alternative and effective
non-lethal tools that protect both large
carnivores and livelihoods are urgently
In a new study, we describe how painting
eyes on the backsides of livestock
can protect them from attack.
Many big cats – including lions, leopards,
and tigers – are ambush predators.
This means that they rely on stalking
their prey and retaining the element
of surprise. In some cases, being seen
by their prey can lead them to abandon
the hunt. We tested whether we could
hack into this response to reduce livestock
losses to lions and leopards in
Botswana’s Okavango Delta region.
The delta, in north-west Botswana, has
permanent marshlands and seasonally
flooded plains which host a wide variety
of wildlife. It’s a Unesco world heritage
site and parts of the delta are protected.
However, though livestock is excluded,
the cordon fence is primarily intended
to prevent contact and disease transmission
between cattle and Cape buffalo.
Large carnivores, and other wildlife
including elephants, are able to move
freely across it, and livestock losses to
large carnivores are common in the
Figure 1: “Eye cows” Bobby-Jo Photography
area. In response, lethal control through
shooting and poisoning can occur.
While the initial focus of the study was
ambush predators generally, it soon became
clear that lions were responsible
for most of the predation. During the
study, for instance, lions killed 18 cattle,
a leopard killed one beast, and spotted
hyenas killed three.
Ultimately, our study found that lions
were less likely to attack cattle if they
had eyes painted on their rumps. This
suggests that this simple and cost-effective
technique can be added to the
coexistence toolbox, where ambush
predators are involved.
Conflict between farmers and wildlife
can be intense along the borders of
protected areas, with many communities
bearing significant costs of coexisting
with wildlife. The edge of the
Okavango delta in Botswana is no exception,
where farmers operate small
non-commercial livestock enterprises.
Grassroots Vol 20 No 3 September 2020