Jul 19, 2016 I Brett Tingley

Scientists Draw Eyes On Cow Butts To Scare Away Lions

Zoologists from the University of New South Wales in Australia are drawing comically large eyes on the butts of course for, you know, science. The cartoon butt eyes are part of larger efforts by a group of international conservationists to protect lion populations throughout Africa.

According to a news release published by UNSW, the eyes will deter lion attacks which in turn will prevent farmers from retaliating against local lion populations.

The eyes work by taking advantage of lions' innate hunting behaviors.

This novel method of deterring lion attacks is the brainchild of Dr. Neil Jordan, a biologist with the UNSW Centre for Ecosystem Science. While conducting field studies of lion hunting behaviors in Botswana, Jordan witnessed lions abandoning prey once their prey had laid eyes on them:

Lions are ambush hunters, so they creep up on their prey, get close and jump on them unseen. But in this case, the impala noticed the lion. And when the lion realised it had been spotted, it gave up on the hunt.

This mostly harmless technique (sorry, self-conscious cows) works through tricking the innate hunting psychology of the lions. Lions will not attack prey head-on, but instead prefer to ambush prey from behind using their speed to gain the element of surprise. When the lions see the painted eyes, their instincts inform them that they are being watched and thus, they do not attack the cows.

This technique draws inspiration from the natural world: other animals in nature, such as butterflies, peacocks, and fish use false eyes called eyespots to deter predators.

False eyes called "eyespots" are a common predator deterrent in the animal world.

So far the researchers have only conducted tests with sample sizes too small to be conclusive, but initial results are promising. Out of all the cows painted with eyes in an initial ten-week test, none were attacked while three unpainted cows were killed by lions. A successful crowd-funding initiative has raised enough support to conduct more wide scale tests.


African lions are currently listed as an endangered species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s “Red List.” The current African lion population is estimated to be around 30,000, down from a previous estimate of 100,000 just twenty years ago. The populations of some African lion subspecies, such as the Senegal lion, are estimated to be as low as a few hundred.

The majestic African lion is among the world's most endangered species.

Hopefully, drawing eyes on cow butts could be a positive step towards protecting the kings and queens of the jungle, at the insignificant expense of the cows’ dignity. Suck it up, cows: we've got science to do and lions to save.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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