Thirteen-year-old Richard Turere hates lions. "If I see a lion now, I feel that it's something that's ready to attack me," he told National Geographic's Big Cats Initiative. "Me and the lion, we are enemies, enemies, big enemies." Yet a lighting system he invented when he was 11 is saving lions, as well as family cattle and government money, Big Cats Initiative conservationist Paula Kahumbu found.
Turere's family lives on the border of Nairobi National Park in Kenya. Since he's installed his system, which cost less than $10, the family hasn't lost any cattle to night attacks from lions wandering away from the park. Six neighboring families have called on the boy to install his invention on their homesteads, too.
Nairobi National Park is home to lions, hyenas, elephants and other wild animals. It's located right in the city, so residents near the park's unfenced southern border often lose livestock — and their lives — to lions and other wildlife. Homesteaders will kill the wild animals in return, to try to protect their herds. Over the last decade, the lion population in Kenya has declined from 15,000 to just 2,000, according to the Big Cats Initiative.
Lion kills don't just cost Nairobi families, however. To dissuade herders from killing protected predators, the Kenyan government pays market price for every cow, sheep or goat a predator eats. One study found that one compensation program pays for about 765 livestock animals a year.
When he turned 9, Turere started caring for the family cattle. Over time, he noticed lions avoided ranches where someone woke up at night and walked around with a flashlight. So he designed a lighting system to mimic the irregular flashes of a herder checking on his cattle.
He took LED bulbs from broken flashlights and gathered them together in round arrays. He put four or five arrays around the outside of his family's livestock enclosure, pointing outward. Then he wired the lights to the solar-powered car battery that also powers his family's TV. A switch lets them turn on the lights whenever they like. Watch a Big Cats Initiative video to see the Turere family system at work:
Turere invented his lion-repelling lights in spite of having no access to books or technical information, Kahumbu, an award-winning wildlife conservationist, wrote in a blog post. Members of a nonprofit organization, Friends of Nairobi Park, are now paying for Turere to attend a top Kenyan school, Brookhouse International.
Updated May 29: Turere has been selected to audition for the ideas conference TED, Kahumbu blogged on May 27.
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