Large carnivores are important animals economically and ecologically. They contribute to a lucrative tourism industry, and maintain ecosystem health by regulating prey populations. Unfortunately many predators also eat livestock, which heavily impacts the farmers living alongside them. Without effective tools to prevent this human-wildlife conflict, many carnivores are killed in retaliation, and their populations are in decline as a result. While the importance of conserving large carnivores is clear, how to solve this complex issue is less obvious. Enter the i-cow project.
Like many of the projects at BPCT, the i-cow project relies on applying our acquired knowledge of carnivore behaviour to address a conservation management problem. Lions and leopards are ambush predators, relying on stalking and the element of surprise to capture their prey. Just as eye-patterns on insects deter birds, and wearing a mask on the back of your head appears to prevent attacks by man-eating tigers, lions and leopards that are seen by their prey usually abandon their hunt. By painting large eye-patterns onto cattle we are testing whether exploiting this psychological response can reduce livestock predation by lions and leopards, and ultimately conserve carnivores by reducing retaliatory killing by farmers and herdsmen.
Importantly, the i-cow approach is low cost and requires no specialist tools, which is an unusual but desperately needed combination in human-wildlife conflict management. The ultimate goal of the project is to provide farmers with a cost-effective tool that reduces their need and desire to kill big cats and promotes coexistence.
This project is a collaboration between the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust (Botswana), the Centre for Ecosystem Science at the University of New South Wales (Australia) and the Taronga Conservation Society (Australia).