Scaring a Wild Cat May Save Its Life

By Panthera

Jaguar mother and cub

Around the world, humans and carnivores have long struggled to coexist with one another. Hungry or wounded wildlife will sometimes prey on livestock, threatening farmers’ and ranchers’ livelihoods. For wild felids, canids and bears, this can lead to retaliation, resulting in the depletion of carnivore populations and the many benefits they bring to their ecosystems. Panthera scientists have devised a number of solutions to stop human-cat conflict in its tracks, including carnivore-proof livestock enclosures, fences and education programs. 

But with Halloween right around the corner, we want to shine a spooky spotlight on of the most effective human-wildlife conflict mitigation tactics: scaring cats. In Central and South America, we use a variety of different techniques, including lights, dedicated sheepdogs and even disco lights to scare cats away. While it may be no dance party for the cat in question, frightening a big cat might just save its life.


Dogs (and Lights) Helping Cats

The picturesque mountains of Chilean Patagonia harbor some of the most amazing wildlife viewings in all South America. Under the tall, snowcapped peaks, pumas stalk the hillsides in plain sight, charging at grazing guanacos. In recent years, ecotourists have flocked to this region to see the secretive lives of pumas up close. But for the ranchers who also inhabit this landscape, the relationship with pumas is much more tenuous and for generations, Chilean ranchers have removed pumas in retaliation for predation on livestock. 

To stop these deaths, it’s time for pumas to get scared. Panthera supports partner Fundación Cerro Guido Conservación in Chile to implement life-saving scare tactics. Our partner employs the use of LED Foxlights, which shine when a carnivore approaches a place where livestock are kept. The lights are reminiscent of human torches, causing pumas to flee the scene. We also train Maremma sheepdogs and Pyrenean Mountain Dogs to keep livestock safe. Large dogs known for their bushy coats, Maremmas are raised among groups of sheep, making them fiercely loyal to their herd. When a carnivore approaches, the dogs react quickly, driving away the puma in order to protect the sheep, which they likely consider as family. While these dogs are saving sheep, they’re also saving cats from possible death at the hands of retaliating ranchers.


If I Only Had a Scarecrow

It’s one of the oldest and most time-tested ways of keeping crops safe. And now, it’s being used to keep carnivores away, too. In Colombia, where two species of big cats (jaguars and pumas) prowl the forests and mountains, Panthera uses scarecrows to ensure the temporary safety of local livestock from hungry carnivores. 

These scarecrows have the same effect on jaguars and pumas that they do on birds. Upon seeing the human-like figure of the scarecrow, wild cats will fear for their safety. They will also smell the scarecrow, which will wear the clothes of a local farmer. Combine both visual and olfactory fear and the wild cat will leave the scene. Problem solved — at least temporarily. This is an effective strategy in the short term; however, wild cats are very intelligent animals and will soon realize that a scarecrow is not a real person. It is advised that carnivore-proof fences be built as a long-term solution in conjunction with scarecrows. While scarecrows are a more cost-effective wildlife deterrent for impoverished peasant farmers, this scaring strategy can only be temporary.

Disco cows

I Will Survive 

We’re giving cows something to dance about. In Costa Rica, puma and jaguar predation on livestock has been a persistent problem. Hungry big cats may be drawn to domestic animals when unable to successfully catch wild prey, resulting in human-cat conflict and potential retaliation. However, Panthera has devised a technique to mitigate livestock deaths — disco! 

Whether you hate disco or not, it certainly serves as a scare tactic for large carnivores. Panthera Cat-Cattle Conflict Coordinator Daniel Corrales devised a visual and auditory collar for cows in unattended farms. With a flashing light (and in recent designs, reflective tape) and bells, the collar wards off jaguars and pumas. In farms where at least 25 percent of the cattle have been fitted with this technology, zero predation events have occurred. While this project has been a success, the only way to make lasting change in Costa Rica is through improved livestock management, including fences. Panthera Costa Rica is now dedicated to this path forward. 

Scare tactics aren’t that scary — in fact, they’re the opposite, unless you’re a wild cat. Each day, these tactics are helping save both wild cats and peoples’ livelihoods. Learn more about how we foster human-cat coexistence.

Watch Our Live Session About Scare Tactics: