Human-lion conflict issues are widespread across Africa. With an increasing lack of prey availability and suitable habitat, lions have become a health and safety hazard to many rural communities through the killing of livestock and/or injuring or killing people. As a result, lions are viewed as dangerous pests and are destroyed through retaliatory killings or by Problem Animal Control departments. In Kenya alone, an estimated 100 lions are killed on average every year in retaliatory killings by locals.
As lions frequently roam into human settlement areas at night to prey on enclosed livestock, the design of bomas (animal enclosures) is a key aspect to preventing attacks. However, it has been proven that lions can penetrate a vast variety of boma wall types and are able to scale often inadequately built structures.
An innovative solution to this problem has come from a Kenyan directly impacted by conflict with lions. In 2010, an 11 year-old Kenyan boy, Richard Turere from Kitengela, created his own method of protecting his family’s boma from lion attacks at night. Rather than strengthening the boma walls, Richard used a handful of torches, a second-hand car battery and a small solar panel to create a flashing light system around the boma perimeter. Knowing that lions are naturally wary of people, he designed the lights to flash in sequence, giving the impression that someone was patrolling the enclosure with a torch. In the two years since installing this system, Richard and his family have reported no further lion attacks.
In 2012, Kenyan-born Sandy Simpson created a modified version of the existing lighting system and began to install it within those communities most threatened by lion attacks. To date, Sandy has successfully installed 34 units around Kenya, with all communities so far reporting no further lion attacks. It is hoped the system can be used continent-wide to successfully reduce lion attacks on bomas and therefore improve community tolerance of predators.
One hugely important aspect of these lighting systems is that of cost. NGO's requesting funds for predator proof bomas, being used most commonly in East Africa, are asking for up to $2000 per boma per household. We estimate that to install such bomas in medium and high conflict zones in Tanzania alone would cost around $2 billion. For these bomas to be installed throughout the continent is clearly not financially viable. This lighting system is a tiny fraction of the cost, and through further development and trials such as this we hope that this cost will be further reduced, including to being affordable for the community members themselves so as to reduce the reliance on donor funding to meet the conflict challenges facing the African people.
In 2013 trial installations of the lighting system were placed on conflict impacted kraals in the Hwange Communal Lands with positive results. As a result of this early success ALERT has partnered with Coventry University, who have successfully gained funding, to extend the initiative to help rural farmers in the Matetsi area. The expanded programme commenced in November 2015 with the arrival of Dr. James Bennett, an expert in livestock husbandry practices from Coventry University, to work with our project team to install lights on additional homesteads, as well as monitoring equipment to assess the effectiveness of the systems.