Richard Turere, a Maasai from Kenya, is a genius. He’s also just thirteen.
Most young boys may be focused on playing and studying, but Richard has been working on protecting his father’s cows from lions.
“From ages 6 to 9, I started looking after my father’s cows,” Richard says. “I’d take them out in the morning and bring them back in the evening. We put them in a small cow shed at night,” and that’s when the trouble would start. Lions would jump in the shed and kill the cows, which are enclosed and an easy target.
So Richard started thinking up ways to scare away the lions. He tried everything from fires (which only seemed to help the lions) to scarecrows. Yet, the lions would find a way around because they “are very clever,” he says.
Then, one night he was walking around with a flashlight and discovered the lions were scared of a moving light. That gave him an idea.
After taking apart his mother’s new radio (we don’t know what she had to say about that!), the young inventor rigged a few simple wires and light bulbs together to create a machine that would flash a series of lights, tricking the lions into thinking someone was walking around with a flashlight.
The only thing he bought was a solar panel, which charges a battery that supplies power to the lights at night. He calls the system Lion Lights. Problem solved!
Now this is the kind of story that should make headline news: an amazing story of creative thinking that could help save an entire species.
Fewer Than 2,000 Lions In Kenya Today
Back in the 1940s, there were at least half a million lions roaming Africa and Asia; today that number is fewer than 20,000 and still declining. In Kenya, lions are the top tourist attraction, but their numbers have declined from 15,000 ten years ago to fewer than 2,000 today.
That’s why Richard’s invention really could save an entire species.
Nairobi National Park occupies 16% of the city, which is great, except that lions often escape from the park. When they do, they often attack livestock and are slaughtered in retaliation by angry farmers.
Paula Kahumbu of Kenya-based Wildlife Direct estimates that Kenya is losing about 100 lions every year. Although most of them are killed by farmers and herders whose cattle graze the land where lions hunt., cheap pesticides are also to blame, and Kenya’s growing population is depriving the magnificent creatures of habitat and prey.
Rural people see the big cats as an expensive nuisance, but a study by the University of Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History estimates that lions on average kill livestock worth $270 a year but bring in $17,000 from tourists.
Practical Solution To Lion and Cattle Problem
Thus, Richard’s invention could save lions, cattle and money.
Last week Richard told his story to a delighted audience at a TED conference in San Diego, California, gaining the recognition he deserves.
Again, from NPR:
To get to the TED stage, Richard traveled on an airplane for the first time in his life. He says he has a lot to tell his friends about when he goes back home, and among the scholars and prize winners, scientists and poets, what impressed him the most on his trip was something he saw at the nearby Aquarium of the Pacific: “It was my first time seeing a shark. I’ve never seen a shark.”
It turns out that his invention has been so successful that lots of neighbors want Lion Lights too. He installed the lights for seven other homes in his community, and now those lights are burning bright all around Kenya. And they are becoming international: someone in India is trying them out for tigers, and farmers in Zambia and Tanzania have also been using them.
I wonder where we will see Richard Turere next?
You can watch a Lion Lights video here:
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Photo Credit: youtube video