BERLIN // Doubts are growing that Yvonne the fugitive celebrity cow will ever be caught.
She is growing more canny by the day and appears to be enjoying life in the Bavarian forest where she has been hiding since she escaped slaughter in May.
"They're not going to get her," said Carsten Rehder, a cattle expert. Hitting Yvonne with a tranquilising dart is difficult because it could be deflected by tree branches, he said. "She's finding enough to eat at the moment. They should simply wait until it gets colder and then lure her out with food."
Michael Aufhauser, founder and manager of Gut Aiderbichl, the animal charity that has purchased Yvonne and wants to give her sanctuary, has vowed he will not give up trying to catch her alive.
But time may be running out for the six-year-old, brown-and-white cow that ran away from a farm in the village of Aschau three months ago.
The local authority has warned it may reinstate a kill order next week because Yvonne, weighing 600 kilos, poses a risk to traffic.
"We will never abandon the search," Mr Aufhauser told The National. "We're checking the temperature of every cowpat we find to determine when she dropped it. We're taking this very seriously," he said, laughing.
"One tracker was so paranoid about giving himself away that he went through the forest in his socks because I'd told him, 'Whatever you do, be quiet!'"
Yvonne, described as unfeasibly intelligent, has become an international media star in the course of her adventures. She eluded a helicopter equipped with a heat-seeking camera and ignored a love trap featuring an attractive ox called Ernst.
"Our wild animal expert encountered her at 1.55am on Monday. He had been lying in wait in a ditch and she emerged out of the mist. They stared into each other's eyes," said Mr Aufhauser. "He needed her to turn her head and keep still for him to get a clear shot. But she just walked off, as usual.
"He said afterwards that Yvonne has developed back into a wild animal. She had the same expression as a buffalo, and the way she was holding her neck showed that she's no longer a dairy cow but an agile, free animal."
Mr Aufhauser admitted that the hunt for Yvonne was becoming more difficult and said his team, which numbers three trackers, would change its strategy.
"What Yvonne needs now is peace. Every step we take to catch her makes her more skilful. She has wised up to telltale sounds like car doors, mobile phones and walkie talkies," he said.
"She now knows that if she wanders out of the woods in the afternoon, the hunters will come because they'll have finished their lunch. But if she comes out at 3am, she knows they won't be there and she can look for water in peace. She needs 120 litres a day."
The priority now, Mr Aufhauser said, was to observe Yvonne rather than actively pursue her. "If we find she has settled down somewhere, we'll call in more people. And we've still got the trump card, Friesi, her calf, with which to attract her."
He said Yvonne was using senses that had developed in cattle over millions of years. "We think we've domesticated them just because we've been locking them up for 3,000 years. That's rubbish. You can't undo evolution."
He dismissed a claim by one wildlife expert that Yvonne had put on 100 kilograms on a rich diet of apples, maize and juicy grass available in the woods. "She's probably just looking bigger because she has become more shaggy in the wild. If she managed to put on that much weight in such a short time, the price of beef would plummet."
Mr Aufhauser, whose charity for neglected animals comprises 20 sites, also shrugged off calls by Hindu leaders to protect Yvonne.
"Our cattle are as holy to us as they are to Hindus. We're positively Indian here," said Mr Aufhauser. "Cows stroll up to us when we're having coffee and steal milk off the table. And if anyone lifted a finger to stop them, they would get into trouble! We are mild and gentle. We have 400 cows and not a single stick."
The sanctuary is so concerned for the runaway cow's welfare that it has purchased Friesi, and her sister, Waltraud, to keep Yvonne company when, or rather if, she decides to abandon the comforts of the Bavarian wilderness.