Breeding cows that can defend themselves against jaguars

If big cats don’t kill livestock, farmers won’t shoot them

RANCHERS in Colombia’s Meta department can be vengeful folk. From time to time jaguars emerge from a clump of forest, streak across the savannah and attack one of a panic-stricken herd of cows. When that happens, ranchers hunt the offender down and shoot it. That practice is endangering the cats’ survival. Panthera, a charity that manages “corridors” for jaguars that stretch from Argentina to Mexico, guesses that just 5,000 of the cats are left in los llanos, Colombia’s scorching savannah. It has come up with a less violent way of protecting both the jaguars and the cattle.

The idea is to teach cattle self-defence, or rather to breed the instinct into them. The cows that graze in los llanos are mostly Zebu, which are popular with ranchers for their fast growth, large size and white hides. But they have an unfortunate habit of fleeing in all directions when danger approaches. Panthera’s idea is to replace panicky Zebu with cattle that stand their ground, or to interbreed the two. Esteban Payán, who directs Panthera’s operations in northern South America, chose San Martineros, a little-known subspecies of Criollo cattle descended from Spanish fighting bulls. Few jaguars dare to challenge a massed group of 500kg (1,100-pound) San Martineros, their horns levelled. Docile with humans, they are fierce defenders of territory and their young. Mr Payán recounts that San Martineros chased away a puma before it could eat a capybara it had killed in their paddock.

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