Maternal aggression may be behind many attacks on humans by cows, according to two overseas animal experts.

The Herald has revealed details of an attack on a runner in Auckland's Totara Park yesterday in which a man who went to her rescue was injured after being trampled by a mob of cows.

An eyewitness said the "possessed" beasts rained blows upon the man with their hooves and which tore chunks of flesh from his legs.

University of Liverpool researchers Carri Westgarth and Marie McIntyre conducted a study into the behaviour of cows following several reported incidents, one of which involved a retired academic trampled to death by cattle while walking in Oxford.


"We searched newspaper reports over two decades and identified 54 separate attacks by cattle on members of the public out walking," told The Conversation.

"Of these, 24 per cent were fatal. Injuries included fractures from kicking, lacerations, punctured lungs, bruising, black eyes, joint dislocation, nerve damage and unconsciousness."

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which reported on deaths, not attacks, said on average four or five people were killed in an accident involving cattle per year.

"Most were farm workers, but a quarter of these deaths were members of the public walking on footpaths or commonly used rights of way."

Almost all of HSE reported fatalities, 91 per cent, were caused by cows with calves.

"Of all attacks, we found that 48 per cent were caused by [unspecified] herds, followed by single cows 22 per cent, cows and calves 20 per cent, heifers 7 per cent, and one bull attack 2 per cent.

"Behavioural research suggests maternal defensive aggression may be behind many attacks."

In the UK there are around 9.7 million cattle and in New Zealand 10.4 million cattle were farmed in 2014, according to Statistics New Zealand.


In 2015 a 12-year-old girl suffered serious injuries when she fell from a trailer after being attacked by a cow in rural Te Awamutu.

The girl and her mother were moving stock when one of the cows reacted badly causing the girl to fall on to the tow-bar of a trailer that was attached to the farm-quad being ridden by her mother.

In 2016 a Paengaroa man had to be airlifted to hospital after being attacked by a cow which left him seriously injured.

The man was helping out a calf when the calf's mother attacked, ramming him against a tree several times.

From November 2016 to October 2017 55,472 accidents occurred where people claimed for an injury related to an incident with animals through the Accident Compensation Corporation.

According to figures released to the Herald under the Official Information Act, there were also more than 28,000 insect accidents, 5328 injuries caused by cats, 4750 injuries from spiders, 2687 related to horses, 1561 for cattle and 89 accidents involving deer.

This article contains an excerpt from a comment piece published on The Conversation in 2017 and can be found here.