In a recent late-night roundup, a herd of cattle in Florida put the kibosh on a suspect's efforts to flee police.
On Sunday night, Seminole County police began following a suspicious vehicle. The driver crashed the car, and two suspects ran off on foot into a field, according to news reports. As a police helicopter captured on film, the field was full of cows—and the cattle gave chase to one of the suspects. (Related: Watch a Drone 'Herd' Cattle Across Open Fields.)
The cows corralled Jennifer Kaufman, the police reported, allowing authorities to arrest the suspected car thief. A backpack in the car filled with cocaine eventually led to the arrest of all three people who were in the vehicle.
But what were the cows thinking? Why would they seemingly assist in catching a criminal?
Courtney Daigle, a biologist specializing in animal welfare at Texas A&M University, says the cows were likely looking after their own.
“It looks like there was a herd of cow-calf pairs in that pasture,” Daigle explains. “Cows are not territorial, but they do have strong predator defense instincts and will protect their calves.” (See National Geographic's Dr. Pol treat a calf with six legs.)
“They are also quite curious, so this could have been a situation that began as predator defense, but since the person kept running, there may have been a mix of predator protection and curiosity,” Daigle adds.
Kurt Vogel from the University of Wisconsin, an animal behavior expert, agrees: "When something catches their interest, they tend to investigate," he says.
Tony Brusco, who raises dairy cows at South Mountain Creamery in Maryland, sees this on his farm. “It could be a combination of both,” he says. “A handful of cows start to chase the person off, and the rest follow the herd. That can happen.”
Daigle notes that when she first entered the pasture, the suspect was crouching, which probably didn’t help—that posture comes across as threatening to cows.
The cattle, based on the size of their ears and their Florida location, likely have Bos indicus genetics, Daigle says. These cattle are originally from India and are better suited to warmer climates. (Learn more about cattle ranchers and their vanishing way of life.)
Daigle adds that scientists don’t know a whole lot about what cows do at night besides lying down and sleeping. But, she says, the tail postures of some of the cows in the video indicate that they are very worked up, and the calves are running to their mothers.
“They’re very excited,” says Daigle. “It looks like a ‘don’t mess with my babies’ type of thing, and, ‘you’re not welcome in my house.’”
Unfortunately for the woman who got stuck in their pasture, Bos indicus cattle are quite intelligent.
“This breed of cattle are a little spicy—smart and with a low tolerance for bull,” Daigle says. “If they don’t like what’s going on, they’re not going to take it.”