Saving the Amboseli Lion in Kenya from near Extinction


Maasai Olympics, et al, to the rescue

……As Six-fold increase in Lion Population established !!!

By: Mohammed Abu

Monitoring by Lion Guardians, a Conservation NGO  has established that, there is a six-fold increase in the Amboseli lion population between 2004 and 2020, making it the fastest growing lion population on community-owned land in Africa, an astonishing turnaround following near extinction at the turn of the century.

The reduction in lion killing isn’t only due to the Maasai Olympics factor alone, but also, as the result of other programs by, Big Life and others including Lion Guardians, the Born Free Foundation, including building predator-proof livestock pens, paying compensation to herders whose livestock is killed by predators to deter retaliation, and increasing the financial benefits mostly from tourism that Maasai families receive from continuing to protect wildlife on their land

Research found 87% of warriors aware of the Maasai Olympics reported the event made them less interested in killing a lion and 91% said it made them more interested in lion conservation.

These were contained in a Press Release issued in Kimana, Kenya recently following the end of the 5th Biennial Maasai Olympics designed to update the initiation practices of the Maasai Warriors as a substitute to the age-long traditional practice of killing lions to prove their prestige and to protect their livestock.

Thousands of spectators in traditional red cloaks and beaded jewellery the release disclosed, gathered to watch 160 young Maasai – 120 men and 40 women – compete in a series of events including spear and club throwing, standing Maasai high jump, and sprints.

Maasai elders and Big Life Foundation, a community conservation organization operating in the Amboseli landscape of southern Kenya, came up with the idea as a way to remove lion killing from the Maasai warrior culture, historically one of the key threats to lions in Amboseli.

The Maasai Olympics,it intimated, replicates traditional warrior skills in place of the initiation practice of hunting lions as a mark of manhood, strength, and prestige. Globally, lions have lost 94% of their range since the start of the 20th century. Today there are estimated to be 23,000 lions left: fewer than elephants, rhinos, or gorillas.

The initiative, it said, is now in its 10th year and was held at Kimana Sanctuary, a Maasai-owned wildlife reserve 200km (125 miles) south of the capital, Nairobi.

Benson Leyian, CEO of Big Life Foundation, said: “Lions and the Maasai have lived in an uneasy balance for generations. Many of 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”..

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. The Maasai Olympics was an idea from the elders that we helped bring to life and, with other predator protection programmes, it has been extremely successful.”

Beginning in August 2022, the four competing warrior villages of Eselenkei, Kuku, Mbirikani, and Rombo have engaged in local and regional competitions, culminating in today’s event. Coming in the midst of a ferocious drought driven by a series of failed rainy seasons, the global effects of the war in Ukraine that has spiked food costs, and the lingering impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the event was a rare chance for people to celebrate.

Mbirikani village were overall winners, and were presented with a prize bull and trophies. Team captain Nickson Kupere said: “It’s been a very good day and we’re very excited that so many of our team won, and that overall we were the winners. We Maasai have been living with wildlife for such a long time but we often saw them as a threat. This competition has changed that, we see wildlife now like we see our cows, and it needs to be protected because it brings us benefits like tourists who come to spend their money here. We’re able to put our children through school.”

Joseph Lekato who successfully defended his title as javelin/spear throwing champion, said: “The Maasai Olympics has really helped change the way that warriors and all people here think about wildlife” adding,. “You won’t find anyone now in all Amboseliland who wants to kill a lion.”

The release while acknowledging the Maasai Olympic sponsors,National Geographic, the Disney Conservation Fund, Chester Zoo, Play for Nature, and Zoo Basel also thanked the project coordinator, Samuel Kaanki, and the volunteer teachers, sports officials, and coaches whose tireless work contributed to  make  the  project a success..

Media Contacts

For interviews or any other questions, contact Mike Pflanz, Big Life Foundation’s Media Advisor, at


Big Life Foundation:

Straddling southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, The Big Life Foundation works to protect over 1.6 million acres in the Amboseli-Tsavo-Kilimanjaro ecosystem. Using innovative conservation strategies that can serve as models elsewhere and collaborating closely with local communities, partner NGOs, national parks, and government agencies, Big Life seeks to protect and sustain East Africa’s wildlife and natural habitats, including one of the world’s best-known elephant populations.

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