Livestock is a highly valued part of people’s livelihood. Efforts like these resonate with community members and serve as an acknowledgement of the value of their livelihoods.
Today far more African lions are lost to conflict with humans and their livestock than from any other cause of mortality.
Mobile Cattle Bomas have assisted in mitigating human/wildlife conflict by protecting livestock from predators.
The concept involves communal herding, which results in many benefits including reduction of labour and improved soil fertility for better crop yields.
Today far more African lions are lost to conflict with humans and their livestock than from any other cause of mortality. Together with Elefence International, we have now also partnered with the Wildcru Hwange Lion Research Project, supported by the SATIB Trust and which has been running for 15 years, and is aimed at understanding, managing and conserving the lion population of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. As part of this valuable research, the Hwange Lion Research Project focuses on reducing human-animal conflict, which poses a significant risk to the survival of all carnivores in the wild, through a detailed understanding of the ecological and social factors that influence conflict. In the Hwange area, this conflict arises from lion predation on the livestock of rural communities who frequently retaliate by killing the lion as the people are subsistence farmers and the cattle are a vital part of their being able to support their families.
Lions, especially those killing livestock, preferentially hunt at night. The housing of livestock in bomas overnight is a critical factor that is highly effective in reducing lion predation.
This recent innovation replaces traditional bomas with boma ‘walls’ made from opaque white plastic sheeting (PVC) which is supported by poles and strung on ropes or cables like a curtain. This exploits a technique used in the live capture of game animals – the fact that many wild species are intimidated by the ruse of a flimsy opaque barrier – and being naive to it, therefore will not challenge it. And so far no lion has yet breached these bomas around Hwange to kill cattle, donkeys or goats. An added bonus is both the reduced environmental cost of cutting the indigenous timber for traditional bomas and another innovation – the siting of these bomas on fallow crop fields where livestock collected together from a number of households can deposit soil-nourishing manure and trample it into the soil. Moving these bomas around to different peoples’ crop fields gives each a turn to be naturally fertilized.
The square boma covers 625m2 and is erected for about a week on a fallow crop field, before moving to another similar site in the village area. So to evaluate the subsequent crops, ‘treated sites’ are those which the boma previously encompassed; untreated sites are immediately adjacent outside. Treated sites benefit from manure and urine of kraaled livestock as well as churning of the top soil by animals’ hooves. Crops subsequently grown on mobile boma sites show obvious improvements.
The first Boma in Mambanje was put up on 4 March 2016 and has a total number of 101 adult cattle and 25 younger calves, it has been rotated around three homesteads so far and this has been the one that has led to a rise in the number of villagers who have since joined the Mobile Boma initiative. Upon putting up this boma, there were several challenges faced where most of the community members still had some crops in their fields and therefore the boma could not be moved as frequently as necessary. This changed when villagers finished up their harvesting and had also begun to see the benefits of the boma in the first field where it had been erected. The villagers had begun to notice the change between areas in the field where the boma was situated and other areas in the entire field. In areas where the boma was, there was now a lot of manure and the ground had been cleared and loosened up by the cattle hooves and activity. The activity also helped to ensure that the cow dung was mixing well with the soil with the cows continuously breaking it down. Having manure on the fields will reduce the use of fertilizers around the community and the soil will not be weakened but made more fertile than ever before.
The second Mobile Cattle Boma at Mambanje was mounted on the 28th of April 2016 and it holds approximately 89 adult cattle and 19 younger calves. The second boma was put up after the success of the first boma which saw the number of cattle rising very quickly. The rapid rise made the second boma necessary as well as the fact that it had become logistically easier for villagers if they had another boma such that herders and cattle did not have to move long distances to the one boma. The Mobile Boma initiative has managed to keep the livestock around the village safe at night and the villagers are beginning to slowly realize that there are ways in which they can protect their livestock and not continuously be victims. The community is realizing that it is possible to live in harmony with the wildlife and this is also evidenced by the fact that villagers are willing to let go of past tensions but focus on the development of the community. The community has willingly accepted the Lion Guardian initiative where in previous years they have rejected it and chased away any Lion guardians sent to them. The Mobile Cattle Boma and the Lion Guardian work in a complementary way where the Guardian informs the villagers where to take the cattle for grazing and avoid grazing lands were lions are roaming.
Since then a 3rd and then on the 11th July 2017 the 4th Cattle Boma was installed to serve the area and ensure that no household that is part of the program has to walk more than a kilometer to their nearest boma. It meant that the project grew to incorporate nearly 40 households with an approximate total of 380cattle. The bomas have been a hit with more neighboring villages requesting for them to help protect their cattle, fertilize their farming land, and inspire them to think about holistic land management.