12 December 2014

For hundreds of years in East Africa hunting and killing animals – mainly lions – has been a traditional rite of passage to manhood. It is customary warrior activity and is carried out to show strength, impress women and identify future leaders.

Maasai Olympics

Warriors competing in the Maasai Olympics – rungu throwing

But this activity was forcing certain species towards the edge of extinction. Something needed to change. So conservation experts worked together with spiritual leaders, village elders and leading Maasai figures to develop these games and stop the killing of animals.

It provides Maasai warriors with other ways of displaying bravery. Now the competition is to see who can win more medals than the other, rather than who can kill the most lions.

Maasai Olympics

Warriors competing in the Maasai Olympics

The first Maasai Olympics were held in 2012 and with it came a completely new approach to animal conservation. Taking place at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro in the Kimana Wildlife Sanctuary will be a number of athletic events, including the high jump, spear throw, 200m sprint, 800m sprint and a 5k run. All based on traditional warrior skills.

Maasai Olympics

High jump

And, for the very first time, women will also compete in two events – the 100 and 1500 metres.

Maasai Olympics

There’s a lot at stake too! The top 3 winners for each event will receive a medal and cash prizes, and the overall winning manyatta receives a trophy and a premier breeding bull.

Dr Maggie Esson – our education programmes manager – is currently in Kenya at the event to present the Chester Zoo Conservation Prize in recognition of the Maasai village (known as a manyatta) that has done the most for wildlife conservation.

On top of that world record holder and Olympic Champion in the 800-metres David Rudisha is the patron of the games again. David is a former Maasai warrior and Kenyan Olympic gold medallist and a great role model for the competition.

Article hero image - black rhino
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