Kenyan teen saves family’s livestock from lions with simple invention

Nadine Kalinauskas

A Kenyan teen's invention, "Lion Lights," helps protect his family's livestock from lions — and earned him an invitation to speak at this week's TED conference.

Richard Turere, 13, was raised on the edge of Nairobi National Park, Kenya. He first starting herding and safeguarding his family's cattle when he was nine years old. Often, he'd discover that lions had attacked in the middle of the night, feeding on the cattle his family needed to survive.

"I grew up hating lions very much," Turere told CNN. "They used to come at night and feed on our cattle when we were sleeping."

When Turere was 11, he had an epiphany that would help protect the cattle from late-night attacks.

"One day, when I was walking around," he said, "I discovered that the lions were scared of the moving light."

Lions appeared to be too scared to approach the cattle if someone was nearby with a moving flashlight.

Turere immediately began to invent what would be known as "Lion Lights."

"He fitted a series of flashing LED bulbs onto poles around the livestock enclosure, facing outward. The lights were wired to a box with switches and to an old car battery powered by a solar panel. They were designed to flicker on and off intermittently, thus tricking the lions into believing that someone was moving around carrying a flashlight," CNN reported.

Since rigging up "Lion Lights," none of his family's cattle have been lost to lions. Because of the success of his lighting system, about 75 of them have been rigged up across Kenya.

"This is a solution that was invented by somebody in the community," explained Paula Kahumbu, executive director of the Kenya Land Conservation Trust and chairman of the Friends of Nairobi National Park. "Therefore the support for it is very high."

Kahumbu is a leader in National Geographic's Big Cats Initiative, working with researchers to help protect lions — the predators are often victims of retaliation attacks after killing farmers' livestock, and are quickly dropping in numbers — by protecting cattle. When she heard about Turere's invention, she knew it would be an idea worth sharing, National Geographic reported.

Turere's bright invention earned him a scholarship at the prestigious Brookhouse International School — and an invitation to speak at the TED 2013 conference this week in California.

"I did it myself, no one taught me, I just came up with it," Turere told CNN. "I had to look after my dad's cows and make sure that they were safe."

"The Lion Lights are being praised for saving cattle, saving lions, and saving money. Conservationists appreciate its humane approach. As for Turere, he dreams of being an aircraft engineer and pilot. If anyone can make flying greener and more efficient, I’m sure it’s this promising young man," wrote Mashable's Alyssa Danigelis.