Lion Lights & Big Enemies

“Me and the lions, we are enemies. Big enemies. We can never forgive one other anything.” Richard Turere

Sketch for Lion Light installation by Richard Turere. I note that the sketch does not include the enemy lion, only the cow to be protected.

Sketch for a Lion Light installation by Richard Turere.
I note that the sketch does not include the enemy lion, only the cow to be protected.

Richard Turere is a young Maasai boy who lives on the outskirts of Nairobi National Park, and up until recently, he was responsible for looking after the family cattle. He invented a simple and inexpensive solution to protecting the family’s wealth from lion attacks. Lion Lights, blinking LED lights connected to a small solar-powered battery, are posted on the perimeters of livestock enclosures at night. The blinking lights fool the lions into thinking that there are humans with flashlights patrolling the farm, and the lions retreat. Simple, elegant, effective (at least unless lions collectively figure out the blinking lights aren’t actually moving). The invention, which young Richard put together himself at the age of eleven, has earned him wide recognition and a scholarship to an excellent private school.

When top predators, in this case lions, come into contact with the top predator  human, in the long run it almost always goes badly for the four-legged predator. Richard Turere isn’t trying to make friends with the lions, and my guess is he didn’t set out to invent Lion Lights with an eye towards conservation of an endangered top predator species. Fewer than 40 lions are estimated to currently live within the National Park. Richard’s installation is intended first and foremost to protect only the animal at the center of his sketch above, the cow.

Between the rapid growth of Nairobi, habitat encroachment for agriculture, livestock grazing and settlements, and some poor park planning from the very beginning, the harsh conflicts between top predators and humans in the National Park seem predestined even more so than other places and predators (for example, bears in Switzerland). Lions are one of the top tourist attractions in an economy in which tourism is the top industry, but that doesn’t make much difference to those who live near the lions but who don’t profit from the tourist trade.

Peace accords are easy between friends, or between a protector and a victim.

A nonviolent means of resolution is particularly welcome when it is found between unforgiving enemies.


Habari Network article – Richard Turere

Big Cat Math

ZambiaImage: The Commonwealth

Image: The Commonwealth

The government of Zambia announced this week that it would be banning the hunting of lions and other endangered  big cats because the estimated $3 million brought in by game hunting is far outweighed by overall tourism revenue (estimated at 2.3% of GDP in 2011, or approximately $412 million). Allowing a decline in the big cat population, even for big money, isn’t worth the potential losses across the broader industry. Zambia is home to over 10% of the 35,000 free-ranging lions estimated to still live on the African continent as a whole.

In this country, as in many of the eight countries surrounding it, big game animals can seen as a part of the natural resources. Big game sightings can be as valuable as Victoria Falls for attracting tourists, or generating income and jobs. Zambia’s tourism revenue is dwarfed by that of its neighbors, and recent government policy is intended to close the gap.

If only all conservation math were so quantifiable and straightforward.