Richard Turere, 13, had reason to despise lions while growing up with his family on a ranch in Kenya: The beasts routinely killed their livestock, which he was largely responsible for. Rather than fret, however, the clever boy put his mind to work and devised an invention that not only deters lions, but does so without killing or injuring them.
The invention, one what has proved remarkably successful after a series of other experiments had failed, stemmed from Turere’s discovery, when he was 11, that lions became skittish at night when people walked around with flashlights.
“I discovered that the lions were scared of the moving light,” he told CNN.
He gathered dozens of LED lights and rigged them to a battery and solar panel that powered the family television. He devised a way to make the lights flash and placed the bulbs on poles surrounding the livestock enclosure.
The nighttime livestock raids ended, and Turere’s “Lion Lights” system is now widely used in the region, helping ranchers deal with the predators in a manner that no longer has to involve shooting them.
“I did it myself, no one taught me, I just came up with it,” Turere said. “I had to look after my dad’s cows and make sure that they were safe.”
Because of his ingenuity, and his adeptness at engineering without training and with limited resources, Turere was invited to Southern California for this week’s 2013 TED Conference, where he has shared a platform with other top innovators. He also received a scholarship to Brookhouse International School in Nairobi, where he now studies.
Turere shared two of his previous lion-deterring ideas at the conference. One involved fire but that backfired, he said, because “it was helping the lions see through the cowshed.”
Another was a scarecrow. “I was trying to trick the lions. But lions are clever,” he said, explaining that on the first day the lions saw the scarecrow and fled, but on the second they realized the scarecrow wasn’t moving and killed several cows.
Of being invited to the TED Conference, according to an event blog post, Turere told the crowd: “A year ago I was a boy in a savannah grassland. I saw planes fly over and I said I’d be inside one day. I had a chance to come by plane for the first time for TED. My dream is to become an aircraft engineer and pilot when I grow up.”
To be sure, for this bright kid, the sky seems to be the limit.