Researchers paint eyes on cows’ butts to ward off predators

A painted “eye-cow” in the Okavango delta region in Botswana
A painted “eye-cow” in the Okavango delta region in Botswana
Photo: Ben Yexley (Other)

While there are many ways in which cows are quite lovely (and we’re not just talking about their taste), they are not known for being particularly bright, and they have a surprising number of predators. In Botswana, for example, the predator pool includes lions, hyenas, cheetahs, leopards, and wild dogs. So, to help give cows just a little bit of an edge, scientists working in the Okavango delta region in Botswana have started painting eyes on the butts of cows.

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The news comes to us from the Miami Herald (with a hat tip to The Counter for pointing us toward the story), which details how the “eye-cow technique,” which admittedly does seem kind of ridiculous, is actually proving to be an effective method for keeping predators away from vulnerable cows. As the Herald writes, defensive eye patterns naturally appear on a range of “butterflies, fish, mollusks, amphibians and birds,” and it was theorized that painting eyes on cows would have the same effect, particularly when combined with other methods for deterring predators.

To test this theory, between the years 2015 and 2018, researchers painted eyes on the butts of 683 cows; 543 cows were painted with black crosses, and 835 cow butts were left undisturbed. By the conclusion of the study none of the eye-butt cows were killed, while four cows with crosses and 15 unpainted ones became meals for predators.

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What’s perhaps most interesting about the study is that painting the crosses did seem to have a positive impact overall. This raises the question: is painting anything on a cow enough to help keep away predators? And if so, have we entered a new golden age of anti-predator cow-side corporate branding, where, like a colorful jumpsuit on a NASCAR racer, brands like Coke and Doritos will be subsidizing the cost of cattle in exchange for advertising space?

Jacob Dean is a food and travel writer and psychologist based in New York. He likes beer, less traveled airports, and is allergic to grasshoppers (the insect, not the mixed drink.)

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DISCUSSION

Dr Emilio Lizardo

In India, it was found that wearing a mask of a face on the back of your head dramatically reduced the risk of being attacked by a tiger since they vastly prefer to be ambush predators and attack from behind.

https://www.nytimes.com/1989/09/05/science/face-masks-fool-the-bengal-tigers.html