Last weekend, Maasai warriors from across the Greater Amboseli ecosystem came together to compete in a day-long sports competition: the 4th Maasai Olympics Finals.
The games represent a history-changing shift from killing to conservation. At the behest of the the Menye Layiok, or Maasai “cultural fathers,” Big Life Foundation established this organized sporting event in 2012 based on traditional Maasai warrior skills to replace the long-held tradition of hunting lions as a mark of manhood, bravery, and prestige.
In an ecosystem where the local lion population was once virtually extinct, to have Maasai warriors competing for medals instead of hunting lions is nothing short of revolutionary.
As with past Maasai Olympics Finals, the day was filled with excitement, tension, and joyous energy:
The high amount of rainfall received in the lead up, although incredibly welcome, meant that the event itself was uncertain. Team selections this past spring had to be delayed due to rain, but would the season end the same way? In the end, the weather cooperated right until the finish of the last event, when everyone had to dash for cover to escape getting drenched.
By then however, the four teams had established their spot on the score board. Athletes from Mbirikani, Eselengei, Kuku, and Rombo Group Ranches, both men and women, brought their best for a series of competitions that were all hotly contested.
The final event, the high jump, is always the highlight of the day, and this year was no exception. Heading into it, the top two teams, Mbirikani and Kuku, were tied for first place. From a standing position, the warriors defied gravity jumping higher and higher, until ultimately the prize went to Mbirikani for an unbelievable height of over 9 feet.
And thus, Mbirikani’s team won the day, taking home the prize bull and top honors for a third time. They had lost to Rombo in 2016 and were elated to take their title back.
Rombo Group Ranch did take home the Chester Zoo Conservation Prize, for a year where no lions were killed on the ranch, and for not retaliating against an elephant that had tragically killed a man earlier in the year.
There is another winner of these games. The lion population in Big Life’s area of operation continues to grow, with some of the largest prides of lions recorded in years.
Through initiatives like the Maasai Olympics, our hope is that both local communities and lion populations continue to win – now, and far into the future.
The success of the Maasai Olympics was only possible because of our wonderful partners, sponsors, and friends.
The games were overseen by the event’s patron: gold medal Olympian, 800m world-record holder, and fellow Maasai, David Rudisha.
Also in attendance were many special guests, including the Governor of Kajiado, the area Minister of Parliament, various other local leaders, and conservation partners. We’re so grateful to everyone who joined us!
And a very special thank you to our 2018 Maasai Olympics sponsors, including: National Geographic Society, Charles and Judy Tate, Dan and Pam Baty, Chester Zoo, Born Free Foundation, Zoo Basel, Disney Conservation Fund, Great Plains Conservation, Great Plains Foundation, Marleen Groen, and Safari Professionals of the Americas.