By Sandra Vaughan, Grand Circle Foundation Project Manager, East Africa
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 two years ago 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. 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, for nearly two years, 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. Last month 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. On November 7, 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.”
To think, just two nights ago, one homestead lost four goats and another lost 35. Last night there were zero reports of any losses. Thank you, Harriet, for believing.
Visit the village of Tarangire and learn how Grand Circle Foundation is making a difference when you join O.A.T. for Safari Serengeti: Tanzania Lodge & Tented Safari. Visit a school supported by the Foundation in this video: