discussion / Human-Wildlife Conflict  / 24 November 2015

Foxlights predator deterrant

You probably all heard about Richard Turere's lion lights project. A Australian sheep herder created a similar device called Foxlights. It has some advantages in that it is a single unit with 360ª visibility, and relatively inexpensive (especially compared to even a single loss of an animal).

Snow Leopard Conservancy has deployed these in Nepal with great initial success. I know Project Coyote here in the USA are using them as well.

There is some concern that these intelligent predators will grow habituated to the lights. But there are multiple colors and constantly changing patterns to help with that. And as long as they used in conjunction with other techniques (such as moving the light location, adding sound via a radio...) and smart livestock management (including corraling and aligning births to the same season as the prey animals), they should prove to be an effective weapon in the arsenal.

There is now a solar version too, which is smaller, lighter, and doesn't require a lantern battery (which can be difficult to get in many parts of the world).

Let me know what you think, or your experience with this or similar devices. Thanks!

Would be interesting to try these out for other animals. The one stumbling block that I can think of for applying this in my work areas is the cost per unit. We're trying to see if we can produce of these locally here in India, and how much we can reduce costs that way.

Ian Whalen is the creator, and he's been very generous with discounts for wildlife convervation, selling them at cost if you buy in bulk. We've also found that it's important to have the livestock herder to pay for the unit, even if it is subsidized. It gives them skin in the game so they will invest in its success.

I have heard about a similar product here in South Africa, called the e-shepherd. My main concerns have been the costs and the fact that jackals are likely to get used to them (as they have with other scaring techniques in the past). I think before any system can be known not to have predators getting habituated to it, it needs to be in use in the same area for at least 2 years. I must add, that I think it is more likely to work with snow leopards (and other cats) than with jackals (or coyotes, if they are anything as clever as jackals). I have some questions about the deployment and usage though...

The lion lights are used to keep lions away from the kraals or bomas at night. That means that the livestock still has to be herded and put into a kraal every night (i.e. no grazing at night). Does the Foxlight system also depend on kraaling at night? With the e-shepherd system they would put them in the camp where the livestock currently grazes, but this only works if camps and rotational grazing is used at all and if the camps are relatively small (I supose at least smaller than a 1000 ha, which is not realistic for many semi-arid situations). You also have the issue of many predators being territorial, so what will it do if these lights are all around its territory? Will it not be forced to get used to it? Or are the lights only placed with a specific herd at night? Another important assumption (which is unfortunately not always true) is that there need to be enough natural prey for the predators on which to survive without needing to kill livestock.

Please do not see this as me simply being critical. I am currently looking at a wide range of anti-predation methods in order to advise farmers and I believe that every method has its own limitations and shortcomings. But we do need to find out (and make clear to the farmers) what those limitations are, how a certain system can be used and deployed and for which cases it might not be the best choice. The danger always exists that a method used in a situation where it was not a good fit, will cause it to get a bad name with potential users, even those in situations where it would have worked very well. 

Thanks Chavoux and Dave!

Chavoux - The e-shepherd idea does sound very interesting, and is something I hadn't heard of before. Would you know any neutral party which has tried this and can comment on its efficacy, or any papers of reports on this? I am open to trying this in India, if I get some positive references.