Holistic Land & Livestock Management

After years of conflict mitigation work on the Hwange Lion research project Brent got a really good sense of the two situations when lions and hyaena tended to kill livestock. The first situation was in the night enclosures (bomas) when lions and hyaena would enter the stockade and kill livestock. This occurred a lot and was largely due to poorly built bomas with large gaps between the timber poles. The second scenario and by far statistically the greatest issue was livestock killed whilst out

grazing unattended. Brent met Allan Savory, founder of the Savory Institute and the Africa centre for holistic management at a meeting and heard about the “lion-proof mobile bomas” that they use to protect their cattle. Brent had finally found what he was looking for and quickly brought the idea back to the Lion project to share with the communities that we worked with. The mobile bomas were then made from heavy PVC covered canvas and hung from taught cables on wire hooks. The principle was very simple and basically worked because if a lion can’t see through the walls of the boma it wouldn’t jump over. Where the traditional bomas were often failing was because the lion could see the cattle through the gaps in the boma walls and they would then jump in to secure their prey. These opaque boma walls stopped that. The lion project spread these bomas out widely and the results were immediate, No more losses to lions or hyaena in these bomas.
Although very successful in their own right, the mobile bomas were but a small part of a much larger and more important story. That was they were there for the night-time protection of livestock and could be used to fertilize crop fields as they moved but the livestock were still grazing unattended during the day and being killed in the bush by lions. At the Africa centre for Holistic management they use herders to manage the daily grazing of the cattle and that constant presence of people with the cattle meant no conflict losses by lions there. People have herded their livestock during the day for centuries if not millennia, so this was not new knowledge but for many reasons it is not the norm these days in Zimbabwe at least. As we were now focusing on mitigating the losses of livestock out grazing, there too was the answer we were seeking. But try as we may we couldn’t get people to adequately herd their cattle.
Roll on a few years and Brent left the Lion project and set up The Soft Foot Alliance trust with his wife Laurie. Their first focus was to set up a project around herding livestock. They had come to learn by then that the herding of livestock to an Holistic plan was not only good at keeping lions at bay but was essential to avoid overgrazing of plants, heal erosion gullies and regenerate landscapes. They wrote a grant application to the National Geographic’s Big Cat initiative for a herding project called Ndawonye (meaning “All-together”) and they incentivized the herding of cattle together and to a plan by providing skills training to off-duty cattle herders.

They offered carpentry lessons and the sewing of the Soft foot alliance’s own adaptation of the mobile boma on an industrial sewing machine. These bomas were now made of a cheaper and lighter material. The cables and hooks replaced with a “trouser-leg design” that meant the boma could just be slipped over poles in the ground. Eventually the sewing group was getting orders to make these bomas, not just for the local use, but for projects and communities as far as Victoria falls, Binga and Botswana.

BREAKING NEWS

Towards the end of 2021, after a perfectly clean record for 9 years, the first animals were lost to a predator whilst in a Mobile boma. A hyaena in mabale communal lands had learnt to bite the material walls of a mobile boma and tear them to get in a grab a goat. It was a shock to the team but we determined that the hyaena had seen into the boma through several small holes in the walls created by thorns etc. Once it saw what was inside the game was up. We repaired the holes and added solar LED lights that flash at night and the hyaena hasn’t killed again.