- Since December 2014, the Tanzania Lion Illumination Project (TLIP) has installed lights on 69 bomas in northern Tanzania.
- The lights are solar-powered, using a large battery to store energy collected during the day and expended at night.
- The lights flash about twice a second, from dusk til dawn, disorienting predators like leopards and lions, even hyenas and wild dogs, scaring them away from livestock and thereby reducing human-wildlife conflict.
Philipo Ormorijei is a local guide who lives in the Maasai village of Nainokanoka, in the Ngorongoro highlands of Tanzania, just outside Serengeti National Park. His village had a problem with a leopard eating their calves and goats, and was about to call in the Morani (warriors) to hunt and kill the predator.
Patti Vaughn, an American who has visited Tanzania numerous times and been friends with Ormorijei for years, remembers the exact date — October 30, 2014 — that she first heard about Nainokanoka’s problem with the leopard.
“I, loving cats, screamed ‘No, I will get the leopard to go away,’” Vaughn told Mongabay. “He waited until I contacted a few friends, found a guy in Kenya who makes the lights, and we all descended on Nainokanoka the first week of December with four types of lights, which we hung around their bomas, where livestock are kept.”
The Ngorongoro Conservation Area Association had brought a large box trap at the end of November, but the leopard ignored it — until the night the lights went up. “She was hungry, and afraid of the lights,” Vaughn explained, “so tried the trap.”
The leopard was successfully relocated and the Tanzania Lion Illumination Project was born.
Since December 2014, the Tanzania Lion Illumination Project (TLIP) has installed lights on 69 bomas in northern Tanzania, the majority of them in Tarangire National Park and in Ololosokwan village, which also lies right outside Serengeti National Park, but to the north of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
“We try to install the lights on bomas that are in a high danger area, along the edges of the parks, and wildlife corridors,” Vaughn said. “The word spreads and we are often contacted by boma owners who have had problems with predators. Tarangire area has lost about 230 lions in the last 11 years to human-wildlife conflict and is a terrible area for lions.”
The concept is as simple as it sounds: The lights flash about twice a second, from dusk til dawn, disorienting predators like leopards and lions, even hyenas and wild dogs, scaring them away from livestock. Often, the animals won’t even bother to approach the boma at all. The lights can be seen for miles, giving the stealthy hunters the impression that people are moving around with torches or flashlights.
“They usually don’t even come close to investigate,” Vaughn said, adding that the lights are not only proving effective, but popular.
“The livestock are left alone, and there is no retaliation against the predators… The Maasai love the lights because they can see what’s happening outside, they can see who’s coming to visit and watch their children playing without worry. Having lights protecting your boma has become a status symbol in some areas.”
The lights are solar-powered, using a large battery to store energy collected during the day and expended at night. But Vaughn and TLIP’s technical consultant, Michael Mbithi, a Kenyan with over a decade of experience in wildlife management and conservation, are always looking for better lights. “We really want lights that are self-contained with no wires between them,” Vaughn said.
TLIP is essentially a four-person team, consisting of Vaughn, Mbithi, Ormorijei (who acts as Maasai interpreter and ambassador), and driver, foreman, and guide Elisante Swai, another Tanzanian. They already plan to install lights on 22 more bomas in the Tarangire area and near Ololosokwan, but they could be a lot busier very soon, as a local official has requested that 600 bomas be given lights.
The logistics can be very challenging, Vaughn says. Ololosokwan in particular does not have good roads — and many of the Maasai don’t live near roads, anyway. But with the results TLIP has seen from such a relatively cheap, simple, and scaleable solution to human-wildlife conflict, Vaughn does not question that it’s worth the effort.
“Lions, leopards, hyenas, and even wild dogs and elephants are all at risk,” Vaughn said, explaining that elephants sometimes attack fields of crops at night, and are then speared or shot in retaliation.
It’s such a simple solution, in fact, that Vaughn can anticipate a time when the TLIP team won’t even have to install the lights themselves. “I have someone right now working on a prototype that, if we can get it manufactured, can actually be sold in shops and can be installed by boma owners, if we can keep the cost down.”