Post submitted by Florian J Weise
Lions and people live a tenuous coexistence. Where their activities overlap problems are inevitable. The consequence often is fatal; sometimes for the people involved, more frequently so for the lions. In retaliation of attacks on humans or livestock, people resort to drastic measures including poisoning. Along the northern edge of Botswana’s Okavango Delta poisoning killed up to 60% of the known lion population in 2013. In response, we started Pride in Our Prides to alleviate the tensions between rural communities and the lions that leave the safety of the Delta.
In December 2015 villagers in Teekae, one cattle post along the Delta’s edge, were up in arms again to get rid of two male lions which had attacked their livestock for four consecutive nights.
Luckily, the hunting party could be calmed at last minute – see previous blog: https://voices.nationalgeographic.org/2016/03/28/into-the-lions-den-diffusing-a-lion-hunting-party/ Pride in Our Prides then pledged to return and help people prevent further attacks on livestock. Thanks to continued funding from National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative, Pride in Our Prides now lives up to its promise and started constructing a new lion-proof livestock enclosure in Teekae. This enclosure (or kraal) will protect livestock from lions at night, the time that domestic animals are usually left unguarded and become most vulnerable to predators.
Looking at the final result one may think that kraal building is a pretty straight-forward thing to do. It neither looks fancy nor very complicated. A closer look at a kraal’s evolution, however, shows it’s quite a formidable task!
First, during a meeting with the entire community (kgotla) a decision is made to determine who will own and use the next kraal. With multiple families facing lion conflicts, it can be a heated discussion and take several hours. Once agreed, a suitable site is found. Next you meet with the new kraal owner to decide on the dimensions and measure the plot. When all the ‘admin’ eventually is finished, the kraal team pitches camp near the site, far away from their families and homes. Here they will stay for 3-4 weeks, the time it takes to complete a single lion-proof kraal.
The team then sets out to chop large amounts of mopane wood – we use this abundant hardwood for its sturdiness and so that kraal owners can maintain the kraal without running short of the necessary material. For the Teekae kraal alone, the team chopped logs, support poles, and weaving branches worth 9 truck loads in total.
The logs often weigh in excess of 70 kg (or 150 pounds) and they are manoeuvred by hand!
Adding to this back-breaking work during the day, elephants visit Teekae each night. The jumbos need to be chased from the kraal site or otherwise they may simply eat up our stash of branches for weaving.
Once all the materials are on-site the team digs holes and plants the heavy logs that are connected with horizontal support poles. The smaller branches are woven into flexible, yet sturdy, panels which make up the walls of the kraal. Weaving is a common traditional skill throughout our project area but try weaving hardwood branches and for a kraal circumference of no less than 56 meters (or 61 yards)!
Finally, all sections are secured with strong wire, the only artificial material used on the kraal. When a kraal is finished we hand it over to the owner and community in a celebratory ceremony. Pride in Our Prides also continually monitors kraal use and efficiency so that we can keep refining the design. Not one of the current owners has suffered losses in any of these kraals which are hugely appreciated!
The new kraal at Teekae is the 9th that Pride in Our Prides has built in the area. And we have more work cut out for us; the next 5 kraals have been allocated to specific cattle posts already and additional requests reach us every week. We will continue to build more kraals along the northern edge of the Okavango Delta to give villagers a simple but cost-effective means to reduce their livestock losses to lions. By doing so, we aim to increase local tolerance for lions that stray out of the protected area and enter a more and more human-dominated landscape.
We thank Nat Geo’s Big Cats Initiative for providing much needed kraal building funds. We also thank our fantastic kraal team who never seem to tire. Despite the hard labour these guys are always good natured, crack joke after joke, and just get on with it!
Leading his community by example, Pro adjusted PiOP’s cattle kraal design and built his own private goat kraal.
And we see first successes as others follow Pro – villagers regularly come to our kraals and take note of the design. An old man simply replicated one of the kraals we had built nearby. His new structure measures 20 meters x 24 meters (22 yards by 26 yards) and he constructed it all by himself!