'Maasai Olympics' replace lion killings in Kenya

Sat Dec 13, 2014 1:26pm EST
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By Drazen Jorgic

KIMANA, Kenya (Reuters) - With ochre smeared on his cheeks, a javelin in his right hand and an intense gaze in his eyes, 18-year-old Maasai Tipape Lekatoo looks ready to hunt lions lurking in the shadow of snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro.

But as Lekatoo hurled the javelin deep into the veldt, there was no risk of impaling a lion. Instead, his aim was to win a gold medal at the 'Maasai Olympics', a biennial event focused on ending Maasais' enduring cultural tradition of killing lions.

"If I win, I will spend all the prize money to pay for my university education," said Lekatoo, a sinewy 6 foot 3 inch warrior who dreams of studying tourism management in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

Lekatoo's first throw of 47 meters won him praise from team mates and whoops from Maasai girls garlanded with garish beads and patterned crimson shukas, or cloaks.

Like many other Maasai boys on the cusp of manhood, Lekatoo no longer believes that following the ancient Maasai ritual of killing a lion is the only way to become a moran, or warrior.

This point has been hammered home over the last two days by David Rudisha, Kenya's Olympic 800 meters champion and the world's most famous Maasai.

The Maasais will be the biggest losers if the lion becomes extinct, Rudisha repeatedly told the throng of Maasai youth who are entering the job market where tourism-related work is their best chance of employment.

"Killing of wild animals is not going to benefit us in any way," Rudisha told Reuters, as zebras and elephants roamed on the horizon.   Continued...

Tipape Lekatoo, an 18-year-old Maasai moran, throws a javelin during the Maasai Olympics 2014 at the Sidai Oleng wildlife sanctuary at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro near the Kenya-Tanzania border in Kajiado December 13, 2014. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya