How Maasai sport is saving lions from extinction

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Nature conservatives, culture and sport fans today gathered at the South-Western part of Kenya to witness a rare sport spectacle where a group of Maasai warriors (moran) known for their traditional right of passage of fighting and killing lions to claim manhood and community titles have down their tools to participate in various sport activities geared towards saving lives of the alarmingly decreasing animals.

With growing scientific concern that lions are dying off so rapidly at the hands of trophy poachers and cultural practices that could result into their extinction if situation continue – the warriors necessitated to take action to save the lions by participating in organized sport and talent search activities where winners awarded with trophies and honor instead of killing lions.

The Maasais are also known to live within the lion’s grassland territories of southern Kenya and north-eastern Tanzania where they have to continuously fight with lions to keep them off their families and cattle – primary source of livelihood.

With the encouragement of conservationists, amid a drop in the lion population, Maasai warriors who once killed lions as a sport and culture are finding other ways to maintain their cultural identity and prove their leadership have turned their energies and talents into conserving the lions.


This marks the third edition of the Maasai Olympics that included events such as a javelin throw and high jumps – very actions they are used to practicing when killing lions. Prizes for the competition also include cash, cattle and even a chance to run in the New York marathon. The event is patronized by World Olympic Champion and event patron, David Rudisha – a former Maasai warrior.

It’s reported that in the past 20 years, African lion population dropped 42% and disappeared from nearly 16 nations across the continent. The ‘king of the jungle’ that once ramble across the continent and into Syria, Israel, Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, and even northwest India, 2,000 years ago more than a million lions roamed the Earth yet today are in big trouble.


Since the 1940s, lions numbered an estimated 450,000, their populations have blinked out across the continent. Today there are barely 20,000 lions remaining, and continue to dwindle, according to National Geographic report. Scientists have connected the drastic decreases in many cases to increase human populations and trophy poaching.

An American hunter became the world’s most hated dentist in a matter of days, after he allegedly baited, wounded with a bow and arrow, stalked, shot with a gun, decapitated, and skinned a 13-year-old black mane lion named Cecil.


Scientific America reports that there have been many conservation foundations working to improve the lot of the African lion, but sadly to date the declines have not abated. In fact the rate of decline in lion numbers is accelerating. Ghana, Coted’Ivoire, and Congo are the latest African countries added to long list that have lost all their lions, and Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda predict local extinctions in the next ten years.

While many factors are listed as contributory to the overall decline in lion population numbers (including loss of habitat, conflict with growing human and livestock populations, declines in the number of functioning protected areas, etc), the report states trophy hunting is a highly significant and immediately preventable source of additive mortality.


The CITES Trade Database lists a total of 6,652 lion trophies exported 2000-2009, virtually all males. This number very likely exceeds lions killed as “problem” animals due to livestock and human attacks: as one example, between 1992 and 1998, 135 lions were reportedly killed as problem animals in northern Botswana. During that same time, 198 trophies were exported from the same area.



East Africa Editor