The Hunt for Medals, Not Lions

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Our assignment for Big Life Foundation was centred around the Maasai Olympics initiative. Watch the film and read more about this below.

After spending time in the African bush, immersing yourself in the beauty, the wildlife and the vast landscapes, it is impossible to walk away and not feel compelled to preserve it, to fight to conserve everything that makes these wilderness areas as beautiful and diverse as they are. As a team, this is what drives us and has instilled within us a desire to create films that will inspire others to feel the same. We love having the opportunity to collaborate with organizations working to make a difference, creating films for them that will lead to change and raise awareness, helping these organizations to expand upon the important work they are doing.

Towards the end of last year, we had the privilege of working with Big Life Foundation to document an incredible initiative they have created alongside the Maasai community members, to promote the peaceful coexistence of lions and the Maasai people – “The Maasai Olympics”.

Telling this story was really important to us, as this initiative is not only greatly beneficial to wildlife, it also highlights the importance of community based conservation and speaks to the role that community empowerment plays in conservation – something we are very passionate about.

Since its inception in 2010, Big Life has established a holistic conservation model, which ensures that people don’t only support conservation, but that conservation supports people too. Big Life Foundation is achieving this by working closely with local Maasai communities in the Amboseli-Tsavo-Kilimanjaro ecosystem of East Africa, partnering with them to protect the surrounding natural areas.

The Maasai people inhabit both Kenya and Tanzania and were traditionally semi-nomadic and pastoral.

Maasai tribes would migrate according to rainfall patterns in search of food and water for their large herds of cattle. This type of lifestyle required a great deal of space, which in recent decades has become increasingly limited. As space and resources became scarcer, the Maasai people and the wildlife living within these ecosystems found themselves in competition, leaving these communities and the surrounding wildlife on the frontline of human-wildlife conflict.

Not only do many Maasai people depend on their cattle as a source of income and food, they have a deep connection to their cattle, and believe that it is a Maasai warrior’s duty to protect the community’s cattle from outside threats, such as predators. In the past, this meant that in order to become a Maasai warrior, young Maasai men had to prove their bravery and earn the respect of their family and community by killing a lion.

In response to the decrease in lion populations and motivated by the previous success of Big Life Foundation’s Predator Compensation Fund, 8 Maasai elders, known as the “Cultural Fathers”, who are responsible for educating future generations of warriors, approached the Big Life Foundation team to find a way to eliminate lion hunting from the Maasai culture.

The Maasai elders wanted to work together with Big Life Foundation to protect the lion population, while still ensuring that young Maasai warriors had a way to compete to prove their bravery.

The Maasai warriors noted that throughout the world, sport has been used as a means of competition and thus the idea of the Maasai Olympics was born – “The Hunt for Medals, Not Lions”.

Every two years, participating villages select teams through a series of local and regional tournaments leading up to the final Maasai Olympics, where each team competes in six different events, based on traditional Maasai warrior skills. There are cash prizes and the winning team takes home a prize bull and is left victorious.

The Maasai Olympics is so much more than just a sporting event.

From the moment our Black Bean Productions crew arrived in Mbirikani Manyatta, we could immediately feel the excitement and anticipation. The community members started celebrating as they prepared to leave their village for the event, and their energy was so raw and inspiring – it left our team in awe.

The Maasai Olympics brings the community together and honours longstanding Maasai traditions, while creating awareness of the importance of conservation and the role that each person within these local communities plays in protecting the lion population.

Through the efforts of Big Life Foundation, the Predator Compensation Fund, conservation education, and their continued work with local communities and partners, the lion population in the Amboseli-Tsavo-Kilimanjaro ecosystem has been restored and is now on the rise.

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