Environment: Wildlife Conservation Through The Maasai Olympics


Wildlife conservation refers to the act of protecting and preserving both wild animal and plant life. With Kenya as a leading tourist destination due to its abundant wildlife, numerous efforts have continually been made to preserve these animals and plants. Although in secluded natural parks and reserves these efforts have been successful, the challenge presents itself when indigenous communities (which reside close to these animals) are involved. One example is the Maasai community who have a 500-year-old tradition of hunting lions when their men reach warrior age.

Lion hunting is a cultural norm among the Maasai, both as a rite of passage and as a means of protecting themselves and their livestock from what they consider vermin. The killing of these animals is seen as a mark of status and bravery to their clans’ people.

This practice has led to a decline in the number of lions currently in the wild. With approximately 2,000 lions remaining in Kenya and a subsequent 25,000 in Africa, it is important to push for co-existence between man and lion.

One might ask, however, what are the benefits of keeping lions alive? Aside from the fact that the animals are in their natural habitat and are therefore under attack by people, lions maintain a balance in regulating dominant herbivore species. The food chain needs biodiversity and lions help in maintaining that through hunting down gazelles, zebras and other dominant herbivores. Human beings are also dependent on this biodiversity which maintains the ecosystem that we all rely on.

Even though these benefits are integral the locals may not be aware of them. It is important to note that lions have more benefit to the locals dead than alive which is what makes the work of Born Free vital to wildlife conservation.

Born Free is an international charity that is at the forefront of protecting wildlife and endangered animals across the globe. In Kenya, Born Free’s main activities include providing education about the importance of wildlife conservation and setting up wildlife conservation centres and reserves across the country, including the Meru Heritage Lion Project, work in the Amboseli National Park and the Mount Kenya Project.

Since 2012, Born Free has participated in alleviating the problem of lion hunting through the Maasai Olympics. The Maasai Olympics is the brainchild of the wildlife charity Big Life Foundation and the involvement of eight Maasai elders who sought to stop lion hunting amongst their people and make it a cultural taboo. The games were thus developed to encourage young men to participate in the organised sports competition based on their traditional warrior skills; thus offering an alternative to the lion hunting.

The Olympics are held once every two years and this year’s competition’s main sponsor is Born Free. Since August, local and regional competitions have been held across the country for the Maasai men of warrior age as part of the Olympics. The activities of these Olympics aim at educating local communities about the conservation of lions and wildlife, and the importance of human-wildlife co-existence and tolerance.

On the 15th of December, the final rounds will be held at Kimana, near Amboseli National Park with cash prizes and a breeding bull up for grabs to the winning individuals and communities. Some of the activities of the Olympics include 5,000m, 800m, 200m races, high jump, javelin and rungu throw and two events for women: 1,500m and 100m races.

Born Free’s C.E.O. Howard Jones noted that “Born Free is proud to be involved with the Maasai Olympics and is committed to helping ensure its growing impact and success.”

Such activities will continue to promote the tolerance and conservation of wildlife among these indigenous communities.

The Hunt for Medals, not Lions: The First Maasai Olympics

Read about more Wildlife Conservation through the Lewa Marathon. 

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