While the world mourns and avenges the death of Zimbabwe’s beloved Cecil the lion, one man is on the ground in Botswana protecting lions from the angry guns of local farmers and ranchers.
Marnus Roodbol is the founder of Walking for Lions (WFL), an organization that works with locals in Botswana to literally light up their land when a lion or lions trespass and attack livestock. His passion and drive for this is as steadfast and strong as the lions themselves. He is one man with boots on the ground, using his own vehicle, taking his own supplies, and a handful of motion-detecting outdoor lights with sirens paid for with donations. If he’s fortunate, he may have one helper with him. Marnus makes the long drive from his home in South Africa to farms and ranches in Botswana to protect the iconic animal under fire from too many threats.
Walking for Lions is a non-profit organization created to assist wild lions in areas where they need it most. Its objective is to conduct a lion census in various national parks in southern Africa, to estimate the number of lions needing assistance to survive, help local communities that struggle with human/wildlife conflict and be a part of creating a global awareness of these issues. Funds are allocated according to priorities identified by WFL.
In an interview conducted via Facebook Messenger, Marnus relays what it is like when he is on the move for WFL’s “Lights Up Botswana”.
Lights Up Botswana
NG: Will you please explain how the Lights Up program works?
MR: We physically go to each farmer and then start the process of interviews regarding predation on their cattle and so forth. Once enough evidence is shown, then we will install lights and constantly monitor the lion movement around these kraals [livestock enclosures] with the farmers for up to a year to more. Some kraals get camera traps to view behavior of lions around the kraals with the lights and others we just determine effectiveness with spoor etc. Then the biggest issue we are facing how is WHY? Why are the lions coming to the kraals and why are they predating on the cattle? It’s not always the easy answer such as because it’s easy prey, or lack of general natural prey, water shortage or pressure from poaching or other lions around the areas.
NG: How many kraals have benefited from Lights Up?
MR: At this point over 12 as we are in a study so first need to determine what works and what does not until we can continue with it.
NG: Are you seeing results from the Lights Up program?
MR: The light up program is showing a lot of success and has shown the decrease of predators attacking kraals. And it also increases tolerance from some farmers but not all. Most farmers still hate lions so that is always a big thing to take on.
On The Ground Walking For Lions
NG: How often are you on the road for WFL?
MR: I travel quite a lot between South Africa and Botswana with WFL and since our project started June 2014, it average about 7,000 km [4,350 miles] a month between the study sites and back home to my fiancée.
NG: Who travels with you?
MR: Normally just me, but sometimes I have company such as film makers or WFL Coordinators coming to visit the projects.
NG: What is involved in the travel? How much equipment has to be packed and mounted on the vehicle? What items do you take for the work?
MR:The car takes me about two days to prep, which includes all my boxes that contain cameras, lights, drones or laptops. Then I take my food box and yeah, the tents, and other equipment like pots and pans take up a LOT of space. But once I am at a site, I can take them off and free my car a bit. But it’s a big hassle as my car takes in a lot of dust, hence why I need to pack most things in plastic containers.
NG: Are funds being donated regularly? On average, how much is received per year? (Estimate?)
MR: Most funds come from people that want to help and we do have a few that sponsor every year X amount, but still no major corporation backing our work. Very sad to be honest.
NG: Please tell me about yourself. Where were you born and raised?
MR: Born in South Africa in a city called Pretoria and raised most of my life there, but also moved to a small town called Knysna for several years during my high school stage.
NG: What schooling have you had?
MR: I went to a normal public school in South Africa and after I finished I started studying game ranch management and lodge management over a 2 year period to finish with a diploma and from there went straight to work in the bush as a guide.
NG: Where did the interest come for starting the WFL organization?
MR: Well I used to work with hand-raised lions all over Southern Africa and for MANY companies, which I thought at the time was doing the right thing. I tried to reintroduce a pride in a 10, 000 hectare farm but realized they will never lose their need for human companionship and actually become extremely dangerous. I realized that most companies sold the wrong concept, idea. And (it) was all about money. Then I said I would like to start my own thing where I don’t touch a lion, but observe them and start protecting the last lions of Africa. The lions roaming free as they are the ones that need attention, but receive very little due to high media attention on Rhino and Elephants at the current stage.
(Note: all image credits from Marnus Roodbol, Walking for Lions)