Reducing African lion killings because of farmer retaliation

One of – perhaps the most important – reason for the reduction in the African lion population is the fact that the lion has been pushed into close proximity with the human, in this case the farmer. This probably arises out of the fact that there are more farmers in Africa occupying more land than ever before. The African human population is the fastest growing of all continents. They’ve probably taken the lion’s territory for their farms and of course livestock is easy to kill if they are unsatisfactorily protected. And clearly, on many occasions livestock in Africa is not protected well enough.

Male lion resting on a rock
Male lion resting on a rock. Photo in public domain.

A study dated December 2010 concluded that the lion is most threatened in west and central Africa because of indiscriminate killing by farmers. There are other threats but this is at least a major one. They carried out experiments to assess how best to mitigate losses in various reserves including Pendjari National Park in Benin. They improved the enclosures. The usual enclosure were made of thorny branches. They replaced them with clay walls which reduced predation by lions by 50%.

On the Niger side of “W” National Park it was estimated that predation by lions on livestock was valued at US$138 per household per year. The killings mainly took place while the cattle were grazing. They decided that improved herding techniques and measures where the most appropriate method to protect livestock.

In addition, a livestock corridor was created through a “chain of protected areas”. This helped to reduce conflict between the lion and humans in Benoue National Park, Cameroon.

In six villages around Waza National Park, Cameroon, they improved monitoring of livestock and the quality of the enclosures which reduced depredation from 9 to 0 attacks in the enclosures and from 60 to 18 in pastureland.

In Chad and Guinea they used dogs to help to defend the livestock. Overall, you get the gist of how to avoid lions preying on livestock. It’s really about improved farming and protecting livestock in a more efficient manner.

Bum stare: protecting cattle from lion attack in Botswana and elsewhere in Africa
Bum stare: protecting cattle from lion attack in Botswana and elsewhere in Africa. Photo: Ben Yexley

A while ago I wrote about painting eyes on the backsides of cattle to fool lions into believing that they were looking at a large creature. This has helped to produce predation on livestock as I understand it. Lions attack fleeing animals. A creature staring at them puts them off.

One African guy, a young man, devised his own system to scare lions. He uses what he calls “lion lights”. They are a series of flashing LED bulbs affixed to poles around the livestock enclosure facing outwards. They are wired to a box containing switches and an old car battery which is powered by a solar panel. They flicker on and off which fools lions into believing that a person is walking around enclosure with a torch or they are unsure of what is going on which puts scares them. He discovered when he was younger that lions were scared of torchlight flickering at night. The lions prey on cattle at night when the farmers are asleep. He learned to hate lands because of this. You can see why they retaliate with the killing of lions.

Lion lights
Lion lights. These deter lions as they think it is a person with a torch or they are unsure what it is. Photo: CNN Business. Dr Paula Kahumbu

The Tanzania Lion Illumination Project adopted the idea (believed or they had the idea simultaneously) and made flashing lights:

Tanzania Lion Illumination Project flashing lights to protect livestock from lions and other predators
Tanzania Lion Illumination Project flashing lights to protect livestock from lions and other predators. Photo: the business.

While not stopping the African lion preying on livestock, and insurance compensation scheme helps to stop farmers killing lions in retaliation. This was tried in 2003 (and I’m sure there are many other instances) in southern Kenya. They found that it reduced the number of lions killed by farmers but the farmers became reliant on it (“a cycle of dependence”) and it widened the gap between different groups in the community and further, it was very difficult to sustain or reverse the process. These were negative side-effects that needed to be addressed. It clearly takes careful control to manage insurance compensation scheme such as these. It may be beyond the practical abilities of the people involved to do it effectively.

The study: Assessment and mitigation of human-lion conflict in West and Central Africa.

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