Yes, it is possible to scare off lions on the African continent. You don’t have to kill them to protect your cattle. For the past two and a half years, under a scheme instigated by Oxford University’s wildlife conservation unit, farmers have seen a 40 to 50% drop in cattle being killed by lions simply by scaring them away using, surprisingly, vuvuzelas. These are the horns made famous during the 2010 Football World Cup in South Africa. They make a piercing sound and have, I believe, been banned from football stadia since. Employed as a deterrent against African lions they have proved to be highly effective in addition to umbrellas being snapped, drums being banged and bullwhips cracked.
It seems remarkable that such simple methods of frightening off a lion work so successfully and I hope it makes people wonder why for such a long time killing African lions was the default method of dealing with them. The African lion is terrified of the piercing noise made by this football fan’s device.
Young African lions who are learning the art of hunting tend, during their apprenticeship, to prey on livestock because they are easier to kill. They leave the protection of the national park and wander onto farmland. Loss of cattle in the region where Cecil the lion once lived (Hwange National Park) is a disaster for the Ndebele people. One has to be sympathetic towards them as the loss of livestock is the loss of a livelihood. They would know of no other way of dealing with predation by a lion other than killing it. It is nice to provide a nonfatal alternative.
The vast majority of deliberately killed African lions are by farmers protecting their livestock in retaliatory killings. Trophy hunters like the infamous Walter Palmer account for about 5 to 10% of all hunted lions. Despite what the trophy hunters say, trophy hunting does have a negative impact, in my opinion, upon the conservation of the African lion but relative to the retaliatory killings by farmers the impact is slight.
The Oxford University unit referred to have made it their mission to protect cattle without the necessity of killing lions. They have tagged 100 lions in the park where Cecil lived. They have instigated a program called “Long Shields Lion Guardian Program”.
Many of the Lions have radio collars which allows an appointed person, a “lion guardian” to pinpoint with accuracy the location of any one lion using GPS technology. They are then able to send a message to farmers to alert them to the lion’s presence whereupon they frighten it away. One farmer and secretary of the project said:
“Yes, we are frightened when we come outside with our torches… But we have to be brave. You cannot have your cattle crying outside and you crying in the house.”
They don’t see the lion. They just see tracks. The lions who are scared off do not come out of the park again to attack livestock. The program is proof that straightforward, simple and imaginative ways to both protect the livelihood of humans sharing land with lions, while protecting lions, can work.
If you add in some additional cleaver conservation such as insurance programs which compensate farmers for loss of livestock by lion predation and you have some genuine conservation work happening.
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