(Image by Roman Boed under creative commons license)
In years past, lions roamed all over Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America. As climates changed and humans spread, lions began to die out. They died in North America first, and then Europe and Asia. The last North African lion is thought to have died in the 1960s. Now, lions can only be found in one protected park in India and a few countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The rarity of lions coupled with their strength and beauty makes them a draw for tourists from all over the world. However, for the Africans who share a country with lions, they’re a nuisance and a danger. Lions typically do not attack human beings, and they prefer not to be active during the day. In fact, they sleep about as much as your housecat might.
Even though lions are not much of a danger to human beings, they’re a danger to pets and livestock. However, Africans have been living alongside lions for thousands of years. So, how do they keep themselves safe, and what innovations have they made?
Bomas and Kraals
“Boma” is a Swahili word for a livestock enclosure. A “kraal” is a similar concept; the major difference is that “kraal” is a word in Afrikaans. There is no standardized way to build a boma. Instead, they are typically made from whatever is at hand that can keep a lion out. Usually, that means that they are made from the thorny branches of the acacia tree. Acacia trees grow in dry grasslands that are also the habitats of lions and the animals on which lions prey.
A boma can be a temporary structure that a farmer builds to house his or her livestock for one night; alternately, a boma can be a permanent structure on a farmer’s property. Either way, the basic structure is the same. The boma will be a circular or square wall made of thorny branches that face outwards. The branches need to be close enough together that the lion cannot reach through the wall of the boma.
Lions are apex predators and keystone predators but they’re also somewhat opportunistic. If there are thickets of sharp thorns all around livestock, the lion will oftentimes leave them alone in favour of easier prey. The temporary boma is oftentimes just stacks of thorny branches around the livestock. The more permanent bomas are often made with more care. The main shortcomings of the thorny bomas are that they can be knocked down by a strong wind or a very determined lion. Also, if the boma walls are not tall enough, the lion can leap over them. It can be difficult to imagine a 200 kg lion leaping over a wall of thorns, but a lion can leap twelve feet in the air and thirty-six feet in distance. That’s why many independent farmers, large corporations, and even government entities are moving towards chain link fences.
Chain Link Bomas
Many farmers throughout sub-Saharan African have begun to modernise their bomas by adding chain link fencing. There are several different ways to do this. Some farmers simply move to chain link fences around their property. These fences, as long as they’re high enough that a lion cannot jump over it, are known to be very reliable. Research has found that a Kenyan farmer using only a traditional Boma loses as much as nine heads of cattle each year. That same farmer using a chain link fence will likely not lose any cattle. The major concern is that a lion is oftentimes strong enough to push down a fence over time. The other concern is that chain link fencing can cost hundreds of dollars if you have a lot of area to cover; on the other hand, acacia branches are usually free if you can gather them.
The solution many farmers have chosen is a partial chain link boma. The boma will often feature chain link in areas that are most likely to face lions. Also, a chain link gate can make it easier to move in and out of the enclosure to tend to their animals. However, they will also use thorny branches in spots. The thorny branches in conjunction with the chain link fences work great because the thorns discourage the lion from pushing against the fencing.
When the two are used in conjunction, livestock are almost completely safe from lions throughout the night. They’re also fairly unique and attractive fences for anyone who is looking for a rustic look for their home.
Build a Boma
If you want to keep your yard safe from your neighbors’ pets, even if they aren’t lions, you could build a boma. If you already have a fence, you could weave thorny branches through the fencing to recreate the boma look. It will keep dogs, cats, and other animals out of your yard just as surely as African farmers keep out lions. It could also be a great way to prune some of the trees around your yard or with branches removed whilst pruning your fruit trees from an orchard. If you do that, you’ll need a good hand pole saw pruner and/or chainsaw to harvest the branches for your boma. You can also use outdoor twine to tie the branches to the fence to create the appearance of a boma.
If you don’t already have a fence, you can build a boma barrier for your yard; you can build it much like you would build any other fence. You need a few vertical fence posts at regular intervals. Then, string fencing wire between the posts. Once that’s done, attach the branches to the fencing wire to create a wall of branches.
Whether you’re an African farmer trying to keep your livestock safe from lions or just a homeowner trying to keep the neighbors’ dogs out of your yard, a boma is a great choice. The thorny enclosure has been used successfully for hundreds of years; they look pretty great too. Next time you are planning a holiday, you should consider a trip to see the lions and bomas. You won’t need to worry about a thing, either; there are bomas to keep you safe.