Oh victorious cow! In its bid for world domination this cunning ungulate has succeeded in training a great army of apes to do its bidding. These slavish primates, so reliant on the gifts of the udder, first killed off the cows’ predators, such as wolves and bears, and even exterminated those other large herbivores, mastodons and mammoths, that once offered competition for the best grasslands. Now the apes are clearing the world’s ancient forests and turning them over to pasture where their bovine masters might graze. They act as if mesmerised by those big wet eyes. In return for these services a certain sacrifice is made: some cows must be willing to die for the good of their kin. This is the price of power over the primates, who have become addicted to the meat and milk the cows provide. Thanks to this blood pact, the world cattle population has risen to well over a billion, and their dominion is rapidly spreading. But for those pesky vegetarians, their victory would be secure. So might the relationship between humans and cows look were it not for our tendency to put ourselves at the centre of every story. Where biologists come across relationships like the one between us and our cattle elsewhere in nature, they describe them as “mutualist”, meaning that through their mutual interaction both species benefit. So we provide protection and pasture for cows in return for milk and meat, just as some species of ants provide protection and pasture for aphids in return for the sweet liquid they secrete.
more from Stephen Cave at the FT here.