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Scientists Draw Eyes on the Butts of Cows to Protect Them from Lions

It might sound like a silly idea, but it turns out that drawing eyes on the rumps of cattle might deter lions from attacking and prevent human retaliation against the mighty predators.

It sounds like a strategy to protect the poor cattle, but the idea is actually to protect endangered African lions from human retaliation. The majestic felines are on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, with numbers currently in the range of 23,000 to 39,000 and rapidly declining. “As protected conservation areas become smaller, lions are increasingly coming into contact with human populations, which are expanding to the boundaries of these protected areas,” says Dr Neil Jordan, a conservation biologist from UNSW’s Centre for Ecosystem Science. The lions attack livestock, and with no non-lethal way of protecting their livelihood farmers often shoot or poison the predators in retaliation.

To help humans and their cattle coexist with lions, Jordan has come up with a low-cost strategy that he hopes will prevent attacks and retaliatory violence. The idea behind painting a pair of intimidating eyes on the rumps of cows is that they will trick the lions into thinking they’ve been spotted, causing them to abandon the hunt. Scientists know that being seen can deter some species from attacking their prey. For example, Indian woodcutters have long been wearing worn masks on the back of their heads to trick man-eating tigers that they’ve been spotted, and butterflies with eye-patterns on their wings ward off predatory birds.

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