The idea behind painting a pair of intimidating eyeballs on the butts of cattle belongs to Dr. Neil Jordan, a conservation biologist from University of New South Wales (UNSW) Centre for Ecosystem Science. It is meant as a strategy to trick the lions into thinking they’ve been spotted and cause them to abandon the hunt.

The lion's habitat is steadily shrinking.

The African lion is an endangered species with numbers currently ranging from 17,000 to 19,000, most of which live in protected but restricted habitats. Their protected areas are also declining in numbers, which means that more and more, they are coming into contact with humans.

They prey on livestock, and farmers, in an attempt to save their animals, have no other way of dealing with the predators except to kill them.

Dr. Jordan hopes his strategy will permit coexistence between farmers, livestock, and lions.

He named his strategy, iCow, and it is based on a little-known fact about predatory animal behavior. The idea of “being seen” does act as a deterrent for some species. Wood-cutters in India implemented a similar plan with Indian tigers. They wear masks on the back of their heads to make the tigers think that they see them. It is also known that butterflies born with eye-patterns on their wings often deter birds of prey.

How did Dr. Jordan develop iCow?

The idea came to him while he was watching a lion stalk an impala.

The antelope turned and noticed the lion. When the predator realized he had been spotted, he backed away from his would-be prey. With the help of Botswana Predator Conservation Trust (BPCT), Jordan began experimenting last year by having researchers paint eyes on the rumps of one-third of a herd of 62 cattle. Every night they counted heads and after 10 weeks, researchers noted that three unpainted cows became prey to lions and none of the painted cows were harmed.

Still, Dr. Jordan felt the sample was too small and more research was needed. So the team is still at work experimenting and promoting their novel concept to save livestock and the lions, and “all eyes are watching!”