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Maasai Warriors Compete to Protect Lions

  • Thursday, December 11, 2014
  • Nairobi, Kenya
Maasai competitors

AWF is a sponsor of the Maasai Olympics in Kenya. Photo credit: Maasailand Preservation Trust/Big Life Foundation

In the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Maasai warriors from four villages will compete for top honors at the 2nd Maasai Olympics, December 13 at the Kimana Sanctuary in Kenya’s Amboseli–Tsavo ecosystem.

The biennial event—which was first launched in 2012 to give Maasai warriors an avenue to demonstrate their physical prowess through a sporting event rather than a traditional lion hunt—also aims to raise awareness about the many threats lions are facing.

“Lions are in trouble,” says Fiesta Warinwa, Maasai Olympics attendee and Kenya country director for the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), one of the event sponsors. “There are fewer than 2,000 lions left in Kenya, and these could be wiped out in the next two decades unless we act. The Maasai Olympics help protect lions through education and awareness-raising and also instill a sense of pride that Kenya is still one of the big cat’s homes.”

Warriors from four local villages will compete in Saturday’s event, which will be attended by community members, media, conservation groups, tourists and world-renowned athletes such as David Rudisha, a Maasai and gold medal winner of the 800-m race at the 2012 Summer London Olympics. The event is being organized by AWF’s partner, Big Life Foundation, which also co-founded the first-ever Maasai Olympics; National Geographic Society is the event’s lead sponsor.

Big Life Program Manager Samar Ntalamia notes that young men and warriors of the Amboseli ecosystem have not historically had much involvement in conservation. The Maasai Olympics provide an opportunity to change that.

“The Maasai Olympics is more than just a colorful, one-day event,” says Ntalamia. “It is a year-long education program that provides us with a platform to engage young men about conservation issues, particularly lion killing. We believe that, through continued conservation education and by providing these young men with a physical competitive platform other than lion hunting, these warriors can continue to fulfill their traditional role as protectors of livestock and their communities but with an understanding of the importance of predators and conservation in general. ”

Maasai from the four participating villages will compete in six events. These include foot races of 200 m, 800 m and 5,000 m. Three field events will also be held: throwing a spear for distance, throwing a rungu (a wooden club) for accuracy and a Maasai-style high jump. Maasai girls will compete in two events: a 100-m race and 1,500-m race. In addition to bragging rights, winning athletes will receive student scholarships and cash prizes. In addition, two race winners will earn a sponsored trip to compete in the 2015 New York Marathon, courtesy of the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust.

Over the past two decades, Africa’s total lion population has declined by 30 percent and today fewer than 30,000 of the big cats remain. AWF has been working with communities and supporting game scouts in the Amboseli–Tsavo ecosystem. 

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