top of page

Cows With Eye's On Their Butt's

Due to Botswana's excellent conservation policies, the country has one of Africa's largest wild lion populations - estimated at 3,000, and these species can ruin a farmer's livelihood

by killing a single cow.

At night the farmer's herd their livestock into stockades made of logs and thorn trees to deter the lions. Some resort to shooting them or putting out poison, although hunting is illegal in Botswana.

One conservationist who has been working with the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust thinks he might have found a solution.

On a field trip, Neil Jordan watched a lion stalk an impala for 30 minutes but suddenly abandon his prey when the antelope turned and looked at the predator. This made him think that perhaps it was the eye contact that had saved the impala.

What if, he reasoned, an eye was painted on the rump of the animal? Would that have the same effect?

In the initial study, Mr Jordan and his team painted large eyes on a third of a herd of cows on a farm on the edge of a wildlife area near Maun, in the north of the country.

The results were encouraging. Lions killed three of the 39 unpainted cows but none of the 23 painted cows was taken.

"I called our work the i-Cow project," says Mr Jordan, who is based at the University of New South Wales in Australia. "It's the opposite approach to Apple in being a low-cost, non-technological solution."

This year Mr Jordan is expanding the study to two other nearby cattle farms, painting half the 60-strong herds in August. Mr Jordan has also raised funds to use radio collars and GPS logging for more accurate results on the encounters between lions and cows.

The eyes are made by cutting out shapes on foam which are stuck to a wooden board. These are painted and stamped as a pair of eyes either side of the cow's tail. The paint lasts three to four weeks before it must be reapplied.

Many experts wish Mr Jordan well, but remain sceptical. Gus Mills, a southern Africa specialist in carnivore biology, says that lions are opportunists and able to exploit many conditions.

"Why would they not soon learn that the marks on a cow's backside are innocuous?" he reasons.

Kevin Richardson, a South African animal behaviourist and so-called "Lion Whisperer" has worked closely with lions for more than two decades and told the BBC: "Honestly, I think this is wishful thinking, but I'll gladly eat my words if it works.

"I'm sceptical about whether lions are that stupid to be fooled into thinking that fake eyes are real. We've performed some cognitive experiments on lions and found that they learn quickly, so you may fool them once, but not twice."

Paul Funston, Senior Lion Program Director for the global wild cat conservation organisation Panthera, largely agrees: "Lions are often wary of new things. (They) assess risk and prefer sticking to options that they perceive are relatively safer.

"Could the eyes painted on the rumps of cattle disrupt the ever-cautious lion enough to seek out an alternative? We eagerly await the research results to evaluate its effectiveness."

Mr Jordan accepts that what conservations call habituation is an issue with almost all non-lethal deterrents.

But, he says, many of the affected livestock areas do not have resident lions who would be continually exposed to the same eye patterns and thus ignore them. Only time and trials will establish if lions are indeed cleverer than we think.

The International School Of Veterinary Nursing is taking enrolments now. For more information, go to

52 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page