Did you hear the one about the Maasai boy who scared off the lions?
You could call it a light bulb moment. But what it really is is genius. Take a 13-year-old Maasai boy living in Kitengela, on the fringes of Nairobi National Park. This is a boy who has never ventured beyond Nairobi, a boy with elementary education. This boy herds his father’s cattle in an area roamed by lions, an area that has a worryingly high human-wildlife conflict. Tired of lions having his father’s cows for dinner, the boy seeks to devise a way to ward them off for good… without spearing them.
He notices that the predators are scared off by flashlights. So he fits a series of flashing LED bulbs onto poles around the livestock enclosure, facing forward. These lights are rigged up to a box with switches and to an old car battery, powered by a solar panel.
This contraption is set to flicker on and off intermittently, thus tricking the lions into believing that someone is moving about with a torch. And, just like that, the invention works. His father’s cattle are now safe.
This boy is called Richard Turere.
The amazing thing is that Richard’s simple invention not only saved his family’s cattle, it is being adopted in conservation in Kenya and beyond. In fact, the success of his contraption – dubbed ‘lion lights’ – has spread from his neighbours in the community to Tanzania and Zambia, where it is now employed by pastoralists. The word is, someone in India is trying it out with tigers.
It was only a matter of time before Paula Kahumbu, Executive Director of the conservation outfit Wildlife Direct, who had been studying this human-wildlife conflict, heard about Richard’s innovation. It offers a simple solution that she and her team hadn’t thought of, and comes at a critical time, when the Kenya Wildlife Service estimates that there are just 2,000 lions left in the whole country.
Richard Turere, the little herd boy from Maasailand, was soon invited to tell his story to the prestigious TED 2013 Conference in California, sharing the stage with some of the world’s most brilliant minds and innovators.
He has since received a scholarship to the prestigious Brookhouse International School and dreams of becoming a pilot.
Richard’s tale is a real story for the front pages because it represents a triumph of our heritage. His simple invention, with its non-violent principle, protects our wildlife and enhances the co-existence of wildlife and man in the same space.
It also speaks of our innate ability to find solutions to problems. It shows that we don’t need foreign aid or millions of dollars in technology to resolve our difficulties. All we need is to look at our enabling environment and what it offers, and find a way to use it in a positive way to serve our environment and us.
Richard’s story is an inspiration, but it also begs the question: what can each of us do to make a difference in our local community, to make life a little more comfortable, safer and easier on the environment?