Today’s Solutions: December 04, 2021

From The Intelligent Optimist Magazine
Winter 2017

Big cats are in crisis throughout Africa. According to some estimates the lion population has gone down by 80 percent in the past 20 years as much of their historical habitat has been converted into farmland for expanding human populations. As a result, increasingly, lions are searching for prey outside wildlife park boundaries where they find and kill cattle and goats. This causes significant economic loss and hardship for local communities. And, in retaliation, they kill the lions and other predators.

One woman, who fell in love with big cats when she was a child playing hooky from school in order to visit the zoo in the Bronx in New York, has made it her mission to “find the common ground for both people and wildlife.” Laly Lichtenfeld grew up to become a Yale-educated, Tanzania-based conservationist and cofounded—with her husband Charles Trout—the African People and Wildlife Fund. The fund is focused on turning the ‘lose-lose’ situations for wildlife and villagers into ‘win-win’ scenarios balancing the needs of both.

Through a village-based approach with the Maasai people, they are co-creating  ‘living walls’ as such a solution. Living quarters and livestock are protected in bomas encircled by living trees such as the African myrrh. The living walls are constructed by stripping limbs from the myrrh trees in the dry season. The limbs are stuck in the ground and when the rains come the seemingly dead poles sprout to life. Chains are affixed to link the growing trees. As the tree root systems spread, they prevent honey badgers and hyenas from tunneling under the fence, while the thickening tree canopies prevent lions from getting in from above. “A scientific study shows that living walls are 99 percent successful. There are no lions killed in villages with living walls,” says Lichtenfeld.

The African People and Wildlife Fund planted the first living wall in Tanzania in 2008. Today there are 650 living walls protecting more than 12,500 human beings and 125,000 livestock. The fund builds some 100 new walls each year at a cost of $500 per wall. The walls last at least 20 to 30 years as dead trees can easily be replaced by new ones. The fund has calculated that five new walls on average save one lion.

The living walls initiative shows that a simple and inexpensive solution can be created for the ‘king of the jungle’—who is revered for his independence, courage, canny intelligence and majestic strength—to safely and peacefully co-exist with humans. The project is also a testimony to ecological harmony as big cats are judged to be the best indicator species to assess the overall health of the ecosystem.

Says Lichtenfeld: “I want people to understand just how much we get from our natural world, that it brings us peace of mind. If we want to find the balance in our lives, then we have to embrace nature as a resource and we should not give up hope.” | NANCY REED

Print this article
More of Today's Solutions

Rwanda’s mountain gorillas represent a successful conservation story

Following years of poaching and habitat destruction, the population of mountain gorillas in Rwanda once numbered under 260 individuals. Now, Rwandan gorillas represent a rare conservation success and a key economic engine for the East ... Read More

Germany plans to put 15 million electric vehicles on its roads by 2030

Making electric cars the dominant vehicles on the road is key to curbing planet-warming emissions and protecting the climate. In a bid to reach that goal, an increasing number of countries and cities across the ... Read More

Here are 5 Indigenous-led eco-charities you can support today

The climate crisis has caused us to reconsider our consumerist lifestyles and turn to Indigenous peoples to learn from their superior understanding of living in harmony with nature. Here is a list of five organizations ... Read More

Scientists discover a peculiar new planet

Deep into the Hercules constellation, 855 light-years away from Earth, lies a record breaking exoplanet. This newly discovered gas giant was named TOI-2109b, and the thing that makes it so special is the fact it ... Read More

High altitude experiment shows that snow monkeys are excellent at fishing

Snow monkeys, also known as the Japanese macaque, are native to many of the main islands of Japan. These fluffy creatures are the most northern-based non-human primate out there, meaning they have some cold temperatures ... Read More