Richard Turere lives in Empakasi,on the edge of the Nairobi National Park, just south of the City of Nairobi. He is responsible for herding his family the livestock and keeping them safe from predators, especially lions. Being so close the park puts this family’s cattle right in the path of lions and every month they lost cows, sheep and goats. Nairobi Park has the worlds highest density of lions, and they often predate on livestock which are easier to catch.
At the age of 11 Richard decided to do something about his family’s losses. He observed that the lions never struck the homesteads when someone was awake and walking around with a flashlight. Lions are naturally afraid of people. He concluded that lions equate torches with people so he took the led bulbs from broken flashlights and rigged up an automated lighting system of four or five torch bulbs around the cattle stockade. The bulbs are wired 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 stockade.
In the two years that his lion light system has been operating, the Turere family has had no predation at night by lions. To Richard he was just doing his job – protecting the herds. His father is beaming, stock thieves will also think twice about visiting a homestead where it appears as if someone is awake. Five of the neighbours noticed that they were getting hit by lions but not the Turere homestead. Richard has already installed the lion lights system in their bomas too.
For conservation and human wildlife Conflict management, this simple innovation is a breakthrough. The Kenya Wildlife Service report that human wildlife Conflict has cost the government Ksh71 million in compensation in 2011 alone. In Kitengela consolation of several million has been paid to the community for the loss of livestock to lions alone. This figure will rise dramatically as new legislation comes into play. Richards little device of four or five lamps, some wires and a few batteries costs less than ten dollars and has saved his father tens of cattle and therefore it has saved donors several thousand dollars in consolation. The alternative being applied elsewhere is the construction of lion proof fences but at the cost of 1,000 dollars just for materials, then there’s the cost of transport and labour it is way out of the price range fore the average pastoralist. Richards invention is cheap, local, cost effective and easy and quick to install and to maintain.
What is extraordinary about this story is that Richard has had no books or access to technical information. He says he does not know where he gets the ideas or the knowledge, and yes, he has given him self plenty of electric shocks. His father James is proud of his son, and has given him space to tinker and collect bits of gadgetry. Like so many boys, Richards dream has something to do with aircraft – he wants to be an engineer. When I first asked him about lions he said he hates them, but his invention has saved many as lions are often killed in retaliation for killing livestock. Now we need help on scaling up this idea.
Richard has just been awarded a scholarship at Brookhouse School where he intends to excel. This was all possible through support from Friends of Nairobi Park (FoNNaP) members, Michael Mbithi, Nickson Parmisa, Neovitis and Elvis, Winnie Khasakhala, Brookhouse School, AAR who have provided full medical cover.