In the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Maasai warriors from four villages competed for top honors at the second edition of Maasai Olympics on December 13 at the Kimana Sanctuary in Kenya’s Amboseli–Tsavo ecosystem. The event was organized by Big Life Foundation, sponsored by National Geographic Society and co-sponsored by African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) which has been working with communities and supporting game scouts in the Amboseli–Tsavo ecosystem. Conservation groups, tourists and David Rudisha, a Maasai and gold medal winner of the 800-m race at the 2012 London Olympics attended the event.
Africa’s total lion population has declined by 30 percent and fewer than 30,000 lions are alive. Maasai Olympics was launched in 2012 to provide Maasai warriors an avenue to display their physical prowess through a sporting event rather than a traditional lion hunt. The aim of this biennial event is to simultaneously raise awareness about the many threats lions face.
According to Big Life Program Manager Samar Ntalamia, young men and warriors of the Amboseli ecosystem have never been involved in conservation. The Maasai Olympics is an opportunity to change that.
“The Maasai Olympics is more than just a colorful, one-day event,” explained 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”.
“Lions are in trouble,” said Fiesta Warinwa, Maasai Olympics attendee and Kenya country director for AWF. “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”.
Maasai competed in foot races of 200m, 800m and 5,000m and events including throwing a spear for distance, throwing a wooden club for accuracy and a Maasai-style high jump. In addition to bragging rights, winning athletes received student scholarships and cash prizes. Two race winners earned a sponsored trip to compete in the 2015 New York Marathon, courtesy Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust.