Magazine article Earth Island Journal

Good Fences

Magazine article Earth Island Journal

Good Fences

Article excerpt

A new, low-tech solution is helping the Masai people in northern Tanzania outwit their age-old nemesis, lions, in a nonviolent manner. The big cats routinely raid Masai cattle in the villages, and the herders, whose life centers around their cows, hunt down and kill lions in retribution.

Lion numbers in the region have declined by 50 percent since 2003 as a result of killings by villagers, as well as habitat fragmentation and loss. But a new kind of cattle pen, known as a living wall, is helping keep livestock safe from lion attacks, and the cats safe from Masai spears.

The living wall combines plantings of the indigenous African myrrh trees (Commiphora africana), interlinked with chain-link fencing, to reinforce corral walls. As the trees grow, their interlocked crowns create an impenetrable barrier, which, unlike chain-link alone, cannot be scaled by lions and other large carnivores. The trees' root system also prevents hyenas from tunneling into the cattle pen from below. About 360 of these lion-proof fences have been built in 12 communities in the Masai steppe region over the past five years, and there is a long list of villages waiting for installation.

There have been no lion attacks in any of the villages where these fences have been installed, says Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld, executive director of the African People and Wildlife Fund, the US-funded charity which is sponsoring the Living Wall project.

Traditionally, the Masai have built bomas--livestock enclosures out of the branches of thorny acacia trees--to protect their animals from predators. …

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