Lion Lights: Maasai Herder Uses LEDs To Scare Off Lions

Lion Lights: Maasai Herder Uses LEDs To Scare Off Lions

At age 11, a Maasai herder in Kenya figured out a way to scare lions away from his family’s cattle with Lion Lights, an invention that employs LED lights, CNN reports.

Richard Turere, 13, grew up hating lions. He lives on the edge of Nairobi National Park and is from Kitengela, just south of the capital.

From age 9, Richard’s job was to herd and safeguard his family’s cows, goats and sheep. But often, his valuable livestock was raided by lions roaming the park’s savannah grasses, leaving him to count the losses.

“I discovered that the lions were scared of moving light,” he said.

Richard realized that lions were afraid of venturing near the farm’s stockade when someone was walking around with a flashlight. A few weeks later he’d come up with an innovative, simple and low-cost system to scare the predators away.

He fitted a series of flashing LED bulbs onto poles around the livestock enclosure, facing outward. The lights were wired to a box with switches and to an old car battery powered by a solar panel. They were designed to flicker on and off intermittently, thus tricking the lions into believing that someone was moving around carrying a flashlight.

It worked. Since Richard rigged up his “Lion Lights,” his family hasn’t lost any livestock to lions, to the delight of his father and astonishment of his neighbors.

Richard devised and installed the whole system by himself, without the benefit of training in electronics or engineering.

The 13-year-old’s ingenuity has been recognized with an invitation to the TED 2013 conference this week in California, where he’ll share the stage with some of the world’s greatest thinkers, innovators and scientists.

“I did it myself, no one taught me, I just came up with it,” Richard told CNN. “I had to look after my dad’s cows and make sure that they were safe.”

Nairobi is the world’s only capital with a national park. Wild lions, rhinos and other beasts roam free against the backdrop of skyscrapers from the nearby city center.

Each year, thousands of tourists visit the park hoping to see lions.

But for the Maasai tribes around the park, a lion sighting is bad news prompting rural communities to take matters into their own hands.

In some cases they’ve killed whole prides perceived as a threat, or as retaliation for lost livestock. The use of pesticides such as Furadan – a tablespoon costs less than a dollar and is enough to kill a lion – has become a particularly ruthless way of doing so.

The rising human-wildlife conflict, coupled with rapid urban encroachment, means Kenya is now home to less than 2,000 lions compared to the 15,000 that lived there a decade ago.

Officials have spent large sums protecting lions and strengthening Kenya’s tourism industry. Conservationists say that many of these top-down initiatives fail to gain traction with locals. This is why inventions like Richard’s – home grown, simple, affordable and effective – can make a big difference, CNN reports.

Several neighbors of the Turere family in Kitengela sought Richard’s help, asking him to install the system in their enclosures. Around 75 Lion Light systems have so far been rigged up around Kenya.

“This is a solution that was invented by somebody in the community,” said Paula Kahumbu, executive director of the Kenya Land Conservation Trust and chairwoman of the Friends of Nairobi National Park. “Therefore the support for it is very high.”

Kahumbu and her colleagues learned about Richard’s innovation two years ago during fieldwork. Stunned by the boy’s achievements, they helped him get a scholarship at Brookhouse International School, one of Kenya’s top educational institutions, where he started in April.

“Richard is quite an extraordinary boy,” Kahumbu said. He’s “very smart, curious and surprisingly confident for his age and background,” and integrated smoothly among his new classmates, most of whom are from wealthy families.

“One thing that’s unique about Richard is that if you give him a problem, he’ll keep working at it until he can fix it,” she said. “He doesn’t give up; he doesn’t find things too difficult; he’s not afraid of being unable to do something and I think this is why he is such a good innovator – because he’s not worried that it might not work; he’s going to try and do it anyway.”

Richard said his dream is to work in aviation when he grows up.

“Three years ago when I was in the savannah herding my father’s cattle I used to see the planes flying over and landing at the airport and I was like, one day I’ll be a pilot and an aircraft engineer,” he told CNN.