Good fences make good neighbors, the saying goes, and this is particularly true in rural Africa, where herders face daily challenges to protect livestock from lions and other predators.
Build a Boma is a fundraising campaign by the National Geographic Society’s Big Cats Initiative that helps build sturdy enclosures to protect cattle and goats from nocturnal raiders. By raising traditional enclosures, known as bomas, predators and domestic animals are kept apart, saving lions and other marauders from being killed by people anxious to protect their livestock. It’s an African solution funded in part by small donations from people of goodwill across the world, people in countries where sleeping safely at night has been taken for granted. Build a Boma is a win-win for people and wildlife.
People and predators struggle to coexist. In East Africa, lions are killed because herders who have lost livestock seek revenge or want to eliminate the threat against their animals. Tragically, lions often take the rap for other predators that take sheep, goats, cattle, or other livestock, including honey badgers, hyenas, and leopards known to prowl homesteads or the traditional corrals known as bomas. Lions are the first to be blamed for stock losses, so they are hit hardest by retaliation.
Perhaps lions’ famed social units – the pride lifestyle – also contribute to disproportionate impacts of payback. A single poisoned livestock carcass set in retribution often wipes out more lions than other large predators.
The landscapes of East Africa are the hotspots on Earth for lions. Half of all lions on the planet, easily 15,000 of them, can be found across Kenya and Tanzania. That’s within an area less than twice the size of Texas.
National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative (BCI), launched in 2009, seeks to understand the circumstances, causes, and conflicts that put people and big cats at odds. And it tries to address these issues, implementing solutions promoting coexistence. BCI’s Build a Boma campaign, launched in 2013, is the direct result of these pursuits. The solution is simple – fortify the enclosures for livestock to protect them from loss. If predators can’t infiltrate a boma to reach livestock or if livestock can’t stampede out of a corral to then be eaten “on the run,” the rate and amount of livestock lost to predators is drastically reduced, and the cause for retaliatory killing is also proportionately reduced.
The Build a Boma campaign has raised more than U.S.$54,000 of its $500,000 goal and these funds have already been put to use in the field.
With funds from the Build a Boma campaign more than a hundred new fortified bomas have already been constructed.
Four BCI grantees, Amy Dickman and Laly Lichtenfeld in Tanzania, and Shivani Bhalla and Anne Kent Taylor in Kenya, are all engaged in a multitude of conservation efforts around big cats, but boma fortification is an important component for each of them. With funds from the Build a Boma campaign more than a hundred new fortified bomas have already been constructed.
Lion Killings Reduced 80 Percent
“Each fortified boma protects around 200 head of livestock, they’re almost 100 percent effective, and we’ve seen an 80 percent reduction in lion killings in the areas where they’re being used,” says Build a Boma-supported BCI Grantee and Director of the Ruaha Carnivore Project Amy Dickman.
Laly Lichtenfeld, Co-Founder of the African People and Wildlife Fund, who receives Build a Boma support as well as funding from the Big Cats Initiative Grants Program, builds a unique type of fortified boma called a Living Wall. She echoes, “the 245 Living Walls we’ve built with funds from the BCI Grants Program and Build a Boma campaigns are protecting 54,000 head of livestock, impacting 4,900 community members, and preventing the killing of more than 50 lions annually. Recipients are so happy when they receive a Living Wall because they cease to lose livestock. Everyone wants one. Demand is widespread and high.”
Protecting livestock via Build a Boma campaign efforts is, in turn, an incredibly effective way of protecting big cats and other predators from retaliatory killings. This simple solution to an age-old conflict is effective, cost-effective, and sustainable.
When properly built and maintained, fortified bomas are nearly 100 percent effective at eliminating livestock loss. Each one costs around U.S. $500 to construct and they have a life expectancy that can be measured in decades.
To date, the Build a Boma campaign has raised funds to construct more than 100. Demand for fortified bomas across Kenya and Tanzania, however, can be measured in the thousands.
Please do all you can to help. Visit us at buildaboma.org, learn more, and pledge your support. Thank you.
Help Build Boma Fences
You can help National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiatives grantees build boma fences and protect big cats by starting a fundraising campaign or making a direct donation to Build a Boma. Learn more about our campaign here.