Foundation Update: How Lights Saved Maasai Livestock in Tanzania
Every day, we come across stories that tear our hearts out or make us sad—and some stories ignite such a passion within us, we are driven to find a way to help.
My passion was ignited when a pride of 17 lions went on a killing spree in the Maasai village of Tarangire, Tanzania, killing two donkeys and some goats. This incurred the wrath of the Maasai, who in turn hunted down and killed seven of the lions. More than 100 warriors went looking for the rest of the pride.
Now O.A.T. and Grand Circle Foundation have a great friend here in Tarangire, Maasai Chief Lobulo, and he was desperately trying to stop the killings. But 11 lions were still hiding out around the village. He called me and asked for help. With two phone calls, we had a team of rangers from Tarangire National Park and friends of the lion research team on the scene.
By that evening, the rangers and researchers had coaxed the lions back into the park, and the situation was resolved. We lost seven lions that day, but saved 11 from the same pride.
It made me realize that we needed to help the Maasai protect their livestock, and eliminate the need for retaliation killings of lions or hyenas.
Researching on the internet, I found the story of Richard Turere, a 13-year old Kenyan boy who invented a battery-powered flashing light that deterred predator attacks when put around a livestock enclosure. [You can hear Richard speak about his discovery in the TED Talk video above.] In every boma (homestead) he has worked with, he reported zero predator attacks. And so my idea was born: Why not try flashing solar-powered Christmas fairy lights?
Since then, until, I have had Boston associates bring out several sets when they visit, and I have had them strung up in bomas in Tanzania and Kenya. Every month when checking in with the Maasai chiefs, they report zero attacks in bomas with flashing lights. There have, however, been deadly attacks in neighboring bomas. In Amboseli, Kenya, one boma lost 100 goats and sheep in a single night—and they lost 34 in Tarangire that same evening.
Harriet Lewis learned about the project when she visited Kenya in the summer of 2016. Through Grand Circle Foundation, she generously donated $10,000 for the purchase of flashing solar-powered lights to help the Maasai communities save livestock and, in turn, save wildlife. That November, along with a group of 16 O.A.T. travelers and their Trip Experience Leader, Godliving, we started to distribute flashing lights to the Maasai.
We hung lights in 20 bomas, and then went off to meet an elder who had been in a fight with a lioness four months ago. Although he managed to spear the lioness, she was never found. He survived the attack but with horrific injuries to his leg, which was broken in several places. We got to put up lights around his livestock enclosure and a small hut where he keeps his goats. On two separate occasions, hyenas have dug through the wall in an attempt to get the livestock!
I went back in the evening to see if the lights were working. Tarangire was lit up like a Christmas tree. Everywhere I looked, I saw flashing lights—which can be seen as far as a kilometer away. I absolutely cannot even put into words what a moment that was.
And the phone call I had with chief Lobulo the next morning—again, no words can describe my state of mind. Apparently, the Maasai slept very well last night. No nonsense in any boma with flashing lights. And to quote Chief Lobulo: “Mama, please bring more lights. Please help. I have received more than 30 phone calls from other elders. They all want flashing lights. My phone is hot.”
Between the start of this project in 2016 and the onset of the pandemic, we distributed 440 sets of solar-powered lights amongst 200 bomas in the Tarangire region. We also installed three tester sets in Ngorongoro, so we could get feedback from a completely different region.
From both areas, results continued to be staggering: In a homestead with lights installed, there was zero interference with wildlife and therefore zero human-wildlife contact.
But as with all solar, there is a shelf life. After 18 months to two years, the batteries no longer charge, and the wiring takes a beating as the elements are quite harsh in Tarangire, so the panels stop absorbing sunlight.
Just a few weeks ago, I heard from Chief Lobulo. After his lights failed, he lost 19 goats to a leopard attack. With the Foundation no longer present in the area, I am encouraging the chief to help the community sustain working lights—the importance of which was underscored by this unfortunate incident. For example, the sale of an animal would allow boma leaders to purchase more lights—a worthwhile investment when you consider the alternative. With enough perseverance to maintain this simple, affordable solution, it is my hope that peace will be restored to Tarangire once again.