Creative i-cow initiative set to begin
This month at a remote cattle post in northern Botswana, sunrise will herald a bizarre sight; a herd of cows with ‘eyes’ on their backsides.
This may sound like the opening scene of a sci-fi movie, however these are not genetically modified mutant livestock, but cows that have been painted in an attempt to reduce their risk of being eaten by lions and leopards.
Following a very successful crowd-funding campaign, the “i-cow” project has raised over $8000 in donations from 92 generous individuals around the world.
In a low-tech, low-cost and beautifully creative attempt to halt lions in their tracks, each cow gets an eye hand-painted - or rather "stamped" - onto its ample behind.
Using these funds, Dr Neil Jordan, a conservation biologist at Taronga Western Plains Zoo and the University of New South Wales, will now test his theory that ambush predators, like lions, can be tricked into thinking they have been seen by their prey and abandon the hunt.
Dr Jordan is extremely excited by the interest that has been shown in this simple idea and really grateful to everyone who has donated to the project to date.
This funding will buy paint and GPS-logging collars for cattle and a lion, to formally test whether the innovative tool works in practice.
The technique has also attracted widespread interest from around Africa, but despite this and a promising pilot study last year (in 10-weeks no painted cows were killed compared to three unpainted cows from the same herd) the team is taking a precautionary approach.
“It’s very important that we avoid selling desperate farmers false hope, and so we really need to confirm that our i-cow idea is actually effective before we present it to farmers as a viable solution,” Zoo’s Conservation Biologist Dr Neil Jordan said.
Finding sustainable, non-lethal, low-cost tools to prevent human-wildlife conflicts is a conservation priority and Dr Jordan says the i-cow initiative is particularly suited to farmers in this area of Botswana.
Dr Jordan is hopeful the ‘eyes’ have it. Only time will tell.
Taronga Western Plains Zoo