A 13 year old pastoralist has connected torch bulbs and old car battery to wade off lions attacking his family's livestock, an innovation now being modeled across the world as a cheap and friendly way of containing human wildlife conflict, and which could provide cheap answers to a government that spends Sh71million yearly in compensation.
Richard Turere who herds his family's cattle in Embakasi near the Nairobi national park, had to contend with the ferocious lions that sneaked into homesteads and killed his family's livestock and that of his neighbours.
“I have never liked lions since I have had first hand experience about what they have been doing to our livestock, but I equally know the importance they play to our economy by bringing in tourists so I couldnt wish for their death.
I had to think hard about how I could keep the lions off our cattle,” said the soft spoken Turere.
His determination birthed a simple tool that ended the lion's invasion of his homestead for good. He noticed that wild animals attacked at night when people were asleep because they feared light. Lions for example were naturally afraid of people, and so he concluded that lions equate torches with people.
Turere then started collecting bulbs from broken flashlights and made an automated lighting system of four to five torch bulbs around the cow shed. He then wired the bulbs to a box with switches, and to an old car battery charged with a solar panel that operates the family television set.
The lights don’t point towards the cattle, or on any property, but outwards into the darkness. They flash in sequence giving the impression that someone is walking around the cattle area.
Two years after he trialled the first flashlight, there has been no attack in their family's livestock or those of the 6 neighbours that he has installed for.
His simple technology would not just be shared by his neighbours as he was to later learn.
National Geographic Wildlife Direct, with funding from the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative, discovered Turere when they were looking for ways to reduce the human lion conflict. Impressed by his ingenuity they borrowed his idea which is now being tested and modified in US to address growing global human wildlife conflict.
His impressive innovation by Turere caught the eye of Brookhouse international director Jonh O'Connor who offered him a full scholarship at the school where he has gone ahead to perform exemplary in science and soccer according to his mentor at the school Paula Kahumbu.
Todate, his story has reached over 33,000 websites globally and he has appeared in TED a global show devoted to ideas worth spreading. It started out in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, entertainment and design. His invention has for example received massive attention from innovators' websites like Afrigadget , Make Magazine, the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative, and Wildlife Direct who are now looking at how to scale up the use of the lion lights.
But its the impact his innovation which costs only Sh700 to install will have on the emotive human wildlife debate that is already attracting attention in the country as the conflict escalate to unprecedented levels.
The country's lion population has declined from 400,000 in the 1940's to a paltry 20,000 currently to what is largely blamed as locals retaliating against the lions for killing their livestock. Every year the country looses some Sh3million in tourism due to retaliatory killing of wildlife. Only recently Maasai warriors killed 6 lions in Kitengela after the lions strayed in one of the homesteads and killed 13 sheep and goats and mauled one man who was trying to protect the livestock.
In December 2011 and January 2012, the local community killed three lions in retaliation for
stock killed. A number of different park lions in the Kitengela triangle south of the park killed 18 cows, 85 sheep and goats, and 14 donkeys between November and December. These conflicts forced the government to fork Sh71million in compensation last year according to a Kenya Wildlife Service report.
The burgeoning urban population especially in Nairobi has been putting a strain on wildlife especially in the Nairobi National park which has been exemplified by recent human wildlife conflict. Even Kenya Wildlife Services KWF, appears flat flooted on how to deal with the growing menace. Turere's technology, which has received global attention appears to be the only win win situation in wading ferocious wild cats from the livestock without harming them.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter