How to tackle human-carnivore conflict in Meru

12 May 2023


Aided by supporters, Born Free has been trialling several conflict mitigation strategies to protect lions and people in Meru. Our Conservation team reports.


Unfortunately, carnivores across the world can frequently come into conflict with people but, Born Free is working hard to develop effective, humane solutions. Many African species are large and, due to their nature as hunters, can pose threats to people and their livestock. In Kenya, predation of cattle, goats and sheep by carnivores is a serious problem. As you can imagine, many people rely on livestock for their livelihood and loss of their herds can be devastating. Retaliatory attacks on carnivores by aggrieved pastoralists threatens the very survival of many threatened species in Kenya including lions, hyenas, leopards and cheetahs, to name a few. 

Lions and other big cats, such as leopards, are ambush predators; they rely on stealth and the element of surprise to bring down their prey. Artificial eyespots painted on the hindquarters of cattle deter ambush predators from attacking cattle when they are out grazing. Dr Neil Jordan, a conservation biologist at the University of New South Wales in Australia, came up with the idea several years ago while doing field work in Botswana. Trials of the method have taken place across several sites in Africa. Now, our Born Free Pride of Meru team has joined in!

The team painted a total of 136 cows within Kathangachini, Kanjoro and Mauthini areas around Meru National Park, which are hotspots for conflict. We are pleased to report that during the trial, none of the cows painted with artificial spots were predated by carnivores. We are cautiously optimistic that the eye-cow technique could be effective, but more data is needed to confirm our findings.

The second initiative to combat livestock predation involves renewable solar-energy Predator Deterrent Lights (PDLs). Our team placed PDLs around bomas (livestock enclosures) to deter predator attacks at night. The PDLs flash bright light, which deters large carnivores from approaching bomas, as they become disorientated and their night vision is disrupted. Carnivores also tend to associate the light with people, who they tend to avoid.

A total of 192 PDLs were installed on 24 bomas (eight PDLs per boma) within the areas of Kaningo, Kathangachini, Twathanju, Mauthini and Ntoroni around Meru National Park. The results of our initial trial show that no predation events took place inside the boma with the PDLs . Josphat, a pastoralist living in a conflict hotspot close to Meru and who received eight PDLs from Born Free said, “Before we couldn’t sleep. We needed to stay up at night and protect our livestock. Now we can rest because our livestock are safe. Thank you Born Free.”

We are hopeful the PDLs may be an effective mitigation measure against livestock predation, so will be extending the trial to additional bomas in coming months to get more evidence for how well the method works.

Meanwhile, as you can imagine, the local community has responded positively to our trials and are keen to see more action from the Pride of Meru team! We shall report back soon and you can support our innovative, life-saving work to help people and carnivores to co-exist by supporting our End Wildlife Conflict appeal.