By Jocelyne Sambira
Five flashlight bulbs, an old car battery and a solar panel were the only tools 11-year-old Richard Turere used to put together a system of lights that keeps his family’s cattle safe from lions. His simple invention costs less than $10 and it’s easy to install and maintain. It also works to prevent elephants from trampling people’s crops.
The light bulbs are wired to a car battery charged with a solar panel. The lights flash in sequence, scaring off the hungry lions. The BBC quotes Dr Charles Musyoki, senior scientist at the Kenya Wildlife Service, describing the system as “ingenious.” “Lions are not afraid of a steady light,” Dr Musyoki remarks, “But flickering lights from multiple sources confuse them,” and therefore discourage them from approaching.
Because his family lives right behind the NairobiNational Park, lions often lurk in Richard’s village to hunt prey. After the family bull was killed, he earnestly began looking for a way to outsmart them. Richard’s breakthrough came while he was herding cattle back to their shed. He saw a lion retreat in the dark when he shone his flashlight.
Conflicts between humans and wildlife in Kenya are frequent. It is estimated that Kenya loses more than 100 lions every year, often to “mob justice” from locals angered by the loss of their livestock, according to The Economist. The Kenya Wildlife Service reports that such conflicts cost the government huge amounts of money as, for example, over $800,000 was paid in compensation fees for the affected people in 2011 alone. On the flip side, the state makes huge profits from wildlife tourism, leading the locals to believe the animals are more valued than they are.
Richard’s invention has earned him nicknames like “the solar lion tamer” or the “Maasai lion whisperer,” a reference to his descent from the Maasai of Kitengela savannah in Kenya. Cattle are important to the Maasai culture and their way of life. Cows are a form of currency for the seminomadic and mainly pastoral people of south Kenya and parts of Tanzania.
Richard has installed the “lion lights” in his neighbourhood and the attacks are dwindling. His invention is a simple but innovative way to manage human-wildlife conflict. The invention helped him “make peace with lions,” he says.