Richard experimented with a few ideas before finally coming up with the lights – including building fires out of cow dung, and putting up a scarecrow. “I was just testing things, I didn’t know exactly what I would create,” he said. One afternoon, he even broke the family television trying to see exactly what was inside, and if it could help him with his mission.
After a few weeks, he asked his father to help him source a solar panel and car battery, and, borrowing the wires and motorcycle indicator box, finally struck success.
“The first time it worked, it felt great,” says Richard, “I felt like I was solving a big problem.”
Richard’s invention may not be a remarkable technological breakthrough – flashing motion sensor lights could probably do the trick- but the fact that it costs hardly anything, can be completely locally sourced, and most of all is effective in keeping lions away, has truly impressed local residents. Richard has installed seven Lion Light systems for his neighbours, and people all over Kenya have begun copying his approach.
With increasing pressures on land and resources, as well as a rising demand for ivory, Kenya has witnessed a stunning decline of its large wildlife – nearly two-thirds – over the past few decades. Technology – typically a bit more advanced than Richards lights – is aiming to play a major role helping conserve what’s left.
For example, near Amboseli, a game park in southwestern Kenya, the Kenya Wildlife Service has “collared” several lions with tracking devices that send text messages to cell phones of rangers and local residents, warning them of their presence. Another service called Elephant 911 crowdsources information on incidents involving elephants – such as suspected poacher activity or elephants trampling crops- via SMS, allowing agencies to track hotspots of conflict or poaching. The Save the Elephants organisation has fitted elephants with high-tech collars, which emit mobile phone and satellite signals, allowing rangers to track them via Google Earth.
In Central Kenya's Ol Pejeta Conservancy, which hosts four of the world's last remaining seven northern white rhinos, owners plan to start test-flying a $75,000 drone to live-stream information on the rhinos to rangers on the ground. The cameras also have thermal imaging, allowing night patrols.
Yet despite all of these efforts, Paula Kahumbu, a Kenyan conservationist and CEO of WildlifeDirect, says that sometimes it’s the local, homegrown technologies like Lion Lights that work best.
“Technology can be gimmicky,” she says. “There is a tremendous need to recognize local and practical ideas. This is a solution that was invented by somebody in the community, and the most effective technology is having people – like Richard – on the ground.”