A Beer at Bayfront that Saved Lions

by Tim L. Tetzlaff,
Naples Zoo Director of Conservation

It’s September 3, 2014 and I’m driving down Goodlette Road to join National Geographic Explorer Dr. Luke Dollar for dinner at Bayfront. Amidst casually catching up on each other’s travels, he pauses. He’s got something good. “Do you want to know the project I found getting the most bang for the buck out there?” When the Program Director for National Geographic Society’s Big Cats Initiative asks this, there’s only one response. I order myself another drink as I first hear the name ‘Laly’ spoken.

Just like knowing Hamlet’s father is dead is foundational to understanding Shakespeare’s tragic play, so is comprehending that over three-quarters of cat species are threatened by the challenges of human and wildlife coexistence. Predators pressed by shrinking habitats and prey availability expand beyond their natural quarry and herders who depend on livestock often retaliate by killing the offenders. It’s the frontline of conservation – as well as our topic that Wednesday night.

Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld, CEO and
Co-Founder of African People
and Wildlife, helping to install
a Living Wall.

As I sip, Luke tells me about Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld. She’s one of those all-in leaders. Laly lives permanently in Tanzania, is a National Geographic Explorer and the recipient of numerous prestigious accolades, as well as being the CEO and co-founder African People and Wildlife (APW). She even spent three years living in the bush in a tent atop a Land Rover. But what was so efficient that prompted Luke’s praise? That’s when I first hear about ‘Living Walls.’

For context, traditional Maasai dead acacia thorn walls are imperfect in protecting livestock. One study showed predators attacked the average community fifty times a year resulting in retaliatory killings of half a dozen lions or more. In response, Laly worked directly with communities to craft a more successful practice that also respects traditional culture.

When Luke describes the Living Wall, it’s brilliant in its simplicity. Branches of living Commiphora trees are harvested. A furrow is dug in a circle and the branches are planted in the dry season. Chain link is then secured around this corral. When the rains start, the branches burst into life and this impenetrable barrier just grows stronger over time instead of degrading like the typical thorn corrals. Each requires a $500 contribution by those of us who want a future for lions and a cost share of cash and labor from the community.

A single Living Wall like this can save
half a dozen lions a year from retaliatory
killing. Photo Credit: Felipe Rodriguez

But here was Luke’s kicker. In a ten-year study, Living Walls were found to be 99.9% effective preventing attacks. The predators can’t get in, so they stop coming. That removes the motivation to kill lions. With that profound return on investment, Naples Zoo began supporting African People and Wildlife as one of its long-term partners. It’s pure joy to show travelers a Living Wall on our safaris and to share the work of extraordinary people like Laly with you.

That wasn’t the last meal with Luke that has led to great things. But those stories are for another time.

Join Naples Zoo on safari with Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld
Speaking of meals, over lunch a few months ago in Tanzania, Laly and I chatted about co-hosting a safari. Plans aligned perfectly and Naples Zoo is offering the rare opportunity for just 6 couples to travel with the two of us this October. If a no-compromise safari is on your wish list, explore this custom-crafted itinerary at www.napleszoo.org/travel.

Featured Photo: Tetzlaff and APW’s Human-Wildlife Conflict Program Officer Elvis Kisimir with the owner of a Living Wall. Kisimir is the leader of innovative Living Walls project and a respected Maasai moran (warrior) within the community.

Top Photo: A lioness rests in a tree in Tarangire National Park. Photo Credit: Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld

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