Protecting Wild Lives: Stand your ground beef
Cows that are good at self-defense are also good for jaguars.
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-defense, 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.
Eugenics seems to work.
Since 2012 Mr Payán has been working with Eduardo Enciso, a rancher in Meta, who already had some San Martinero cattle.
Mr Enciso reports that both purebred San Martinero cows and the offspring of Zebus that have been inseminated by San Martinero bulls do indeed stick together when jaguars approach.
Cattle that are just a quarter San Martinero may be just as brave, says Mr Payán.
No jaguars have attacked cattle on Las Pampas, Mr Enciso's 4,000-hectare ranch, since the programme began, he says.
Zebu-only ranches in the area suffer a dozen attacks a year.
Panthera is trying to get other ranchers to adopt the technique, but just four have so far expressed interest.
Some contend that smaller San Martinero bulls cannot mount their Zebu cows, though Mr Enciso denies this.
Certainly, there is nothing wrong with their libidos, he says.
Perhaps more important, butchers think San Martineros are scrawny and dislike their reddish hue (hybrids can look like either variety or a mix of both).
Mr Enciso insists that San Martinero meat is more delicious than that of purebred Zebu.
If diners develop a taste for it, perhaps fewer jaguars will be shot.