Lions are less likely to attack cattle with eyes painted on their backsides

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 global south.

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 needed.

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.

This 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 are 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 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 it. During the study, for instance, lions killed 18 cattle, a leopard killed one beast, and spotted hyaenas killed three.

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Source: African Conservation Foundation