Human-lion conflict issues are widespread across Africa and are responsible for plummeting wild lion populations across the continent. With an increasing lack of prey availability and suitable habitat, lions have become a hazard to many local communities through the killing and/or injuring of livestock and people as they search for food. As a result, lions are viewed as dangerous pests and are subject to retaliatory killings by local people or are translocated or destroyed by Problem Animal Control departments of wildlife authorities, charged with dealing with human-wildlife conflict issues. In Kenya alone, an estimated 100 lions are killed on average every year in retaliatory killings by locals. However, more lions are killed than officially reported, as a result of conflict.
As lions roam into human settlement areas at night to prey on enclosed livestock, the design of corrals (animal enclosures) is a key aspect to preventing attacks. However, lions can penetrate a vast variety of corral wall types and are able to scale often inadequately built structures. A hungry lion is a determined one!
In 2010, an 11 year-old Kenyan boy, Richard Turere, created his own method of protecting his family’s boma from lion attacks at night. Using a handful of torches, a second-hand car battery and a small solar panel, Richard created 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. His family reported no further lion attacks once the lights had been installed.
Since then, a modified version of this system has been successfully used elsewhere in Kenya, and ALERT has adopted this method to reduce night-time attacks on livestock in the Hwange Communal Lands of Zimbabwe, with positive results. ALERT has partnered with Coventry University, who provided pilot funding to extend the initiative to help rural farmers in the Matetsi area. Thanks to that funding, we have been able to protect 16 homesteads from lions at night, which in turn has protected these lions from persecution. As part of this initiative Coventry researchers also interviewed 30 households to establish a basic history of livestock predation within the communities. This revealed that households are actually experiencing most of their livestock losses when animals are grazing during the day.
Thus the next stage of this project is to attempt to reduce attacks occurring during the day on livestock in open rangeland. To do so, we first need to establish where and when these attacks are taking place and the factors that make an attack more likely. ALERT, in conjunction with Coventry University, the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA) and affected communities, will train farmers to monitor, collate and interpret attacks using low-cost technology as they herd their livestock. EpiCollect is a freely available app that enables smartphone-based data collection. A similar protocol is already being employed with villagers in Zimbabwe to report incidences of elephant conflict. Livestock attacks, cattle movements and reports of predator sightings will be monitored and this data used to develop effective, low-cost mitigation strategies for local communities. Once set up, monitoring can continue indefinitely, provided airtime for the smartphones is available to the herders.
To get this initiative up and running, we need donations to fund the smartphones. We already have five smartphones, provided as donations to ALERT, but require funding for a further 20 at a cost of USD 75 each (20 for immediate use and five as spares in case of loss or malfunction). Local SIM cards are needed for the initial set up at a combined cost of USD 200, and the purchase of airtime for data upload for 20 smartphones for 12 months is USD 2,400.
With your help we can protect local people from losing their livelihoods to lions, and we can protect lions from losing their lives in a conflict battle which they can never win. Only through co-existence with people will wild lion populations be conserved in modern Africa. Help us find and test ways of ensuring this happens for the people and lions in this area of Zimbabwe.