13 year old inventor of Lion lights, Richard Turere saving lions with WildlifeDirect

Lions, once ubiquitous in Africa and Asia are now in big trouble of going extinct in the wild  Their numbers have declined from an estimated 400,000 in the 1940′s to as few as 20,000 today. In Kenya lions are the main tourist attraction to the country, but fewer than 2,000 remain. WidlifeDirect has been working with the National Geographics Big Cats Initiative to halt lion population declines by the year 2015 and to restore populations to sustainable levels.

In October 2011 WildlifeDirect with funding from the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative, we began looking for ways to reduce the mortality of lions due to human wildlife conflict. We started monitoring the human wildlife conflict in the pastoralist areas around the Nairobi National Park.

In partnership with the Friends of Nairobi National Park we started a community lion project  to understand the problem and to find a practical solution to the problem that was leading to the killings of lions. One of the greatest threats to lions is humans – people are retaliating against lions when livestock are killed.

The lion attacks on livestock in and around Nairobi are seasonal and predictable – lions move out of the Nairobi National  Park whenever the wildlife migrates.

Wildebeest and zebra leave the park as soon as rains start in search of sweet short grass. Lions follow these prey animals into the  vast dispersal area where they encounter pastoralists with livestock which are easier prey for them. The Nairobi National Park has 24 adult lions ( 8 adult males and 16 lionesses), 8 sub-adults (between 2.5- 3 years; 7 males and 1 female) and at least 8 cubs of varying ages below 1 year of age. They are all known individually.

 

The Nairobi park lions are especially vulnerable because they are surrounded by a rapidly growing urban environment. In December 2011 and January 2012, three lions were killed by the local community in retaliation for stock killed – 18 cows, 85 sheep and goats, and 14 donkeys were killed by a number of different park lions in the Kitengela triangle south of the park, since the onset of the short wet season (November – December).

Lion human conflict in this area is an age old problem that has been growing worse every year. We cannot afford to lose the lions, they are the number one tourist attraction to Kenya, a developing country that depends heavily on tourism revenue. We have been monitoring the problem and what we were looking for a local home grown solution, that is practical and affordable for the communities.

We had no idea that we would find that bright spark in a 13 year old boy, Richard Turere.

In February this year we were attended to homesteads that were most severely impacted by the lions – you can read our reports on human- lion conflict here and the lion predation in the Empakasi area here . Indeed the lion predation is so severe that the community tolerance reached breaking point in December 2011 and they killed three lions in one week.

 

The killing of lions right on the city’s doorstep quickly became a national concern You can watch the disturbing footage of the lion killing here. in the area due to the high number of lions in the park. During our visits to the homesteads we discovered something totally unexpected.

Our research showed a surprising result, one family was somehow immune from night time lion attacks. This was the home of Richard and his family but it wasn’t always like this, they used to have lion attacks every week.

The Turere Family live in Empakasi, right on the edge of the Nairobi National Park, just south of the City of Nairobi. Richard is responsible for herding his family the livestock and keeping them safe from predators, especially lions, but 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.

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 lion 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. Six 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 fantastic 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. 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. 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 of lion predation problem is not unique to Kitengela and Empakasi, it is a threat to lions wherever they occur. In the Masai Mara and Amboseli the problem is being solved by building lion proof fences around the bomas, or stockades. This is at a cost of up to 1,000 dollars which is way out of the price range of the average pastoralist. At 10 dollars for the lion lights, Richards invention is cheap, practical, cost effective and easy and quick to install and to maintain. In the two years that his lion lights 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. The neighbours of the Turere family noticed that they were getting hit by lions but not the Turere homestead. Richard has already installed the lion lights system in six other bomas too. For conservation and human wildlife Conflict management, this simple innovation is a breakthrough.

Richards invention is cheap, local, cost effective and easy and quick to install and to maintain. It is getting global and local attention on inventors websites like Afrigadget and Make Magazine. The National Geographic Big Cats Initiative, WildlifeDirect and Friends of Nairobi Park are now looking at how to scale up the use of lion lights which can be used in combination with fences and other deterrents. We thank Mr. Oconnor who on learning about Richards amazing invention, offered him a full scholarship to one of Kenya’s top schools Brookhouse International School.Richards story has reached over 33,000 websites and he has been invited to audition for TED. Keep your fingers crossed for Richard and lions and watch this space.

Richard with one of his new friends at Brookhouse School

Please support the lion lights project,  and keep livestock and lion safe. You can make your donation now.

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3 comments on “13 year old inventor of Lion lights, Richard Turere saving lions with WildlifeDirect

  1. Dana on said:

    Paula, this story gave me goosebumps – what a wonderful invention that certainly can save numerous domestic animals and of course our beloved lions. I think Richard would be a worthy candidate for a CNN Hero of the Year. Congratuations to Richard and learn well at Brookhouse because who knows what else in inside your mind to help solve other wildlife conflicts.

  2. Pirjo on said:

    When I first read about Richard and his invention I was in total awe of this young boy and his problem solution skills. Richard has done something, which can change and save lives of lions across Africa. Such inspiring news in the midst of all the doom and gloom.

  3. Jimmy on said:

    This is fantastic news – I hope it is rolled out to other areas ASAP

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