Farmers have discovered a 'secret' way of fending off predators that had taking out up to 40 per cent of some livestocks, and swathes of crops. The secret is lion dung, which gives off a smell so pungent that other predators stay away, thinking they are running into lion territory.
Rangers in Ruma National Park of Western Kenya and Mwea National Reserve of Central Kenya, two areas that have been suffering heavily from farming losses to predators, now report that the dung is so effective in protecting crops and livestock that the parks can no longer supply it fast enough.
Farmers get the dung from the parks and place it strategically in farms and near their livestock.
The dried brown dung is so strong that farmers need only to apply it once in a week. The science behind this method of warding off predators is that the scent signal given out by a much larger predator is likely to warn other smaller ones away. Most animals are territorial markers and other animals recognise these, in the same way as humans would, when coming across warning signs. “I have personally seen wild dogs and owls coming near my chickens and I can tell you that is how I got convinced the lion dung work. Because you just have to watch them make close steps near the chicken pen and scatter upon sensing the smell,”says Samuel Wekesa a poultry farmer in Bungoma who has lost about 70 chicken in the last 3 months to wild dogs.
But as word goes round on the efficacy of the lion dung, so the demand is rising to the extent that the parks can no longer keep up. Mwongela, a park ranger at Ruma National Park, says in a day more than 30 farmers visit the park requesting for lion dung. “But the lion dung is very limited and only about 5 to 10 farmers can get it per day. This huge numbers of farmers visiting the park says that this method of fighting predators is really working,” he says.
Necessity has therefore birthed new inventions among farmers who are now mixing the dung with local brew to make it last. “But it is also working, we just get the dung mix with the local brew to increase the quantity and spray it in strategic places in the farms, like around the fence where we know the predators must pass,”says Wekesa.
In Mwea, an area where farmers have suffered from birds that descend on their rice paddies, the Mwea National Reserve says almost all farmers are now asking for lions' dung as the solution. Mwea farmers, who provide 80 per cent of Kenya's rice production, were recently in the news appealing to the government to assist them in fighting the bird menace. As the rice harvesting season approaches, many of the birds have built nests in nearby trees ready to descend on the rice farms. Farmers now say they are spending at least Sh600 a day to hire people who stay in the fields for the whole day chasing the birds.
“That means Sh18,000 a month just to keep off birds and we haven't gone to the other costs of harvesting and looking for market. This has just been unbearable, I have already lost like three bags since the beginning of the month,”said Fred Muchina, a rice farmer.
But farmers like Mutwiri, who lives just two kilometres from Fred, are now concentrating on the market for their rice thanks to the lion dung that they were introduced to by a friend. The dung has seen the birds only whirl around the rice paddies before taking off on picking up the lion dung's smell. “I never believed it myself, I had to watch a friend's farm to believe it. Its such a stark contrast between our farms and the other farmers' rice paddies. But the fear that if all of us know about the secret, the lion dung might not be enough for all of us is what is keeping us from sharing the information,” said Mutwiri.
However, the phenomenon has now even excited scholars, with Morris Ngero a University of Nairobi student studying a doctoral degree in Agricultural Information And Communication Management now doing his PHD on the role on non conventional methods in warding off predators.
Ngero has pitched tent at Mwea to study this phenomenon. “When I first heard it, I got so interested because I had been told other farmers in some other countries were using tiger dung to fight predators. I took interest and decided to see what the farmers are actually doing about it. This desperation has birthed something that can work across the country,” he said.
The success of this novel idea could now be amplified across the country to benefit more farmers, as has been the case in other countries from Asia to South America. Farmers there, fighting all predators including coyote, wild dogs and even birds, have found a solution in lion and tiger dung, with commercial enterprises cashing in on this need by creating lion dung pellets sold in agrovet shops. Known as the Silent Roar, the pellets, which cost from $8, contain a scent like that of the lion dung and farmers mix them with water then spray them in the gardens.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter