On the 21st of March ALERT visited the Africa Centre for Holistic Management (ACHM) at the Dimbangombe Ranch in the Hwange Communal Lands near Victoria Falls. Recent losses of livestock to lions on the ranch, despite years of successful predator deterrent programs in place, plus the increase in human lion / conflict in the whole area, highlighted the need for new conflict mitigation measures.
Readers may remember our previous posts about the 'Turere lighting system' created by young Richard Turere of Kenya. A simply made system of flashing lights placed around his family's livestock kraal has successfully deterred lions since 2011. After the shooting of 3 lions near Victoria Falls in February 2013 ALERT began seeking funding and support to install similar lighting systems in this high conflict zone to discover whether these communties would benefit from Turere's invention.
At meetings with local Chiefs, community members and other local organisations to discuss human lion conflict incidence and possible solutions, the lighting system stirred major interest and many felt the system should be trialed and tested. It was therefore mutually decided to trial the first lighting system, which has now been modified by Kenyan conservationist Sandy Simpson, on a kraal on the Dimbangombe Ranch.
Sandy and the ALERT team arrived shortly after breakfast on the 21st with all the equipment ready to go. After measuring the kraal area, assessing the surrounding habitat and discussing the positioning of the lights, the team, along with the local herdsmen, got to work in putting the unit together. Each light and length of wire was strategically placed out of reach of curious, chewing cattle in the kraal at night whilst ensuring light would be shone around all sides of the kraal.
After c. 200m of wire was laid and 11 lights rigged the circuit was connected to a small motorcycle battery and everyone held their breath. Instantly the small LED lights began to rhythmically flash and the herdsmen beamed just as brightly as they inspected each and every light around the kraal. Sandy explained the system to the herdsmen including how to care for the parts and how to charge the battery with the provided solar panel.
The success of the system will be tested by the prevention of predators approaching the kraal and the number of livestock losses. Our ALERT research manager discussed with each herdsman what to observe and note, safely, should any predators approach the kraal at night.
As pleased as all those involved are, this first system is first and foremost a test of the system’s effectiveness and suitability in this habitat and with these lions. Since 2011 over 100 systems have been installed by Sandy across Kenya in high human-lion conflict areas and all have so far reported no further livestock losses. Despite this success the system has not been trialed in Zimbabwe and more importantly in the differing mixed woodland habitat of this area.
Caution must be taken when implementing any deterrent system that may directly effect animal behavior. Although the system may prove very effective in preventing lion attacks on individual kraals at night, it may result in lions moving to neighboring kraals or see lions alter predatory habits to diurnal hours, already a significant problem in the Hwange area. This is one reason why the ranch at ACHM is being used for the trial, as their land management system to improve food security already includes an element of day-time animal husbandry. Whilst the intention of their herding practices are intended to assist in the regeneration of the land and thereby increase crop production, the methods have the added benefit of reducing the chances of lion attacks during the day.
ALERT and ACHM are undertaking a thorough study of the system to assess its effectiveness. Camera traps placed around the kraal will gather footage on how the flashing lights are impacting the lions predatory behaviour towards livestock kraals, and help us to determine how the lighting units can be used most effectively in Zimbabwe.
One hugely important aspect of these lighting systems is that of cost. NGO's requesting funds for predator proof bomas, being used most commonly in East Africa, are asking for up to $2000 per boma per household. We estimate that to install such bomas in only medium and high conflict zones in Tanzania alone would cost around $2 billion. For these bomas to be installed throughout the continent is clearly not financially viable. This lighting system is a tiny fraction of the cost, and through further development and trials such as this we hope that this cost will be further reduced, including to being affordable for the community members themselves so as to reduce the reliance on donor funding to meet the conflict challenges facing the African people.
ALERT believes in African solutions to African challenges, and is therefore very pleased to be able to trial this program, the first in Zimbabwe.