Maasai Olympics: warriors swap spearing lions for sprints

Nairobi, Dec 11 (EFE).- The Maasai biennial games returned to southern Kenya over the weekend as traditional warriors put their spears down in favor of the sporting event as part of a conservation project to protect wildlife in Kenya.

The initiative — which is run by Maasai elders and the Big Life Foundation, a community conservation project — is now in its 10th year and was held over the weekend at Kimana Sanctuary, a Maasai-owned wildlife reserve 200 km south of Nairobi.

“Our elders would have talked with pride of killing problem lions or to prove their strength. But with more livestock and more people, there was a risk that this culture would have wiped out lions in this landscape, which we could not let happen,” CEO of the Big Life Foundation and member of the Maasai people, Benson Leyian, said at the event.

“The Maasai Olympics is about provoking discussion among the warrior generation, who are the future leaders in this ecosystem, that lion-killing is no longer culturally acceptable, and that conserving our environment is how to ensure a sustainable future for these warriors and their families,” Leyian added.

According to Leyian, Maasai elders living in communities around the Amboseli national park (southeast) came up with the idea of organizing the competition.

This year, 160 young people (120 men and 40 women) participated in events that included spear throwing, high jump, and sprints.

The competition took place in the town of Kimana, close to the Amboseli national park.

There are currently some 30,000 lions left in Africa, a number that continues to decline, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Between 1993 and 2014, the number of lions dropped by 43%, due to the loss of their habitats and human encroachment, according to IUCN data.

Lions were nearly extinct in southern Kenya at the beginning of the century, according to the Big Life Foundation.

But a collective effort between the Maasai people, rangers and conservation NGOs in the region has led to a six-fold increase in the population of the species in the Amboseli national park and the surrounding wildlife reserves between 2004 and 2020.

To avoid conflicts between lions and humans, reinforced corrals have been built to protect Maasai livestock from lion attacks, financial compensation is given to shepherds who have lost cattle to the predators, and a boost of the tourism sector has improved the economic outlook of local economies. EFE


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