Although they look like meek animals, cows grazing freely in the mountains have a highly developed instinct for protection and this can be activated if they see that their environment is unsafe and their calves are in danger. So much so that they can come to attack forcefully against their own caregivers as hikers who walk through the countryside without any interaction with them. Even more so when they have just given birth.
According to a 2017 report by the Health and Safety Executive, from 2000 to 2015, 74 people would have died due to a cow attack in the UK, the vast majority of farmers, but it is 24% of these deaths were hikers who walked freely in the countryside. Many would believe that bulls are more likely to attack, but not, out of all the data collected by the HSE report, less than 2% of the attacks were produced by them, and none ended in death.
But what causes them to attack? In principle, veterinarians and ranchers agree that freshly-paired cattle have a very strong maternal instinct for protection, which means that if they feel threatened they do their best to attack. In addition, according to the report, being accompanied by a dog does not help, since they consider them predators. In fact, 94% of the people who died were with them at the time of the attack.
A similar case in Spain occurred on April 2017, in the Cantabrian town of Terán de Cabuérniga, where a 58-year-old woman died from the onslaught of a cow. According to “El Diario Montañés”, who gathered the news, the farmers of the region ensured that the attitude of the cattle is an ancestral behavior and that it is activated when the cows give birth “their maternal and protective sense develops in a very strong, more than in any other species, as soon as they give birth.”
These are not isolated cases, there are many collected by the press every year. In 2016, two people were attacked at different times at the top of Mount Pasagarri, in Biscay, as they strolled or played the sport in the area. In this case, all you had to do was bruises, but the scare was left in their bodies. One of them was Txerra Arberas: “Suddenly I saw myself on the ground with the heads of the three cows on me banging non-stop. They did nothing but growl, angry” (Deia, April 2016).
So if you cross paths with them in the bush, even though they look like shaved animals, be careful because you can interrupt their peace and attack. Therefore, be cautious and avoid making cows feel cornered or in danger of seeing that your calf or your own life is in danger, you will do everything you can to defend yourself.