A group of Maasai morans in the Mara have dropped their spears for the Javelin Throw sport to raise awareness of human-wildlife conflict, a major threat to their livelihoods and Kenya’s iconic species, the lion and elephant.
To celebrate Earth Hour, a day for shining the light on climate change and nature loss, about 30 Maasai warriors, known in the Maa language as morans, competed in the Javelin Throw sport in the Mara cheered on by family members.
The event took place at the Mara Siana Conservancy, a sprawling 29,000-acre area rich with wildlife: lions, elephants, cheetahs, giraffes, buffalos, elands, zebras, gazelles, topis, hartebeests, dik-diks, warthogs, among many others.
World and Olympic Javelin champion Julius Yego, who addressed the morans before the kick off, pledged support for the identification and nurturing of talent in the Mara and other conservation areas through the Kenya Academy of Sports and the Talanta Hela Initiative spearheaded by the Kenyan Government.
Yego, famously known as the YouTube Man for having learnt how to throw the Javelin from YouTube videos, is a member of the Sports Technical Committee formed by Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Youth Affairs, Sports and Arts, Ababu Namwamba, when he rolled out the Talanta Hela platform in February this year.
“We can identify talent and take them to the Kenya Academy of Sports where their talent would be nurtured. This area can produce the best Javelin throwers,” said Yego when he spoke with the morans on the chilly and rainy Saturday morning via a Zoom call.
Sontanai Nkoile, one of the morans, said the group is upbeat about the potential of tapping the Javelin Throw sport as a revenue stream through competition.
“In ancient times, the Maasai were using the spear to test their bravery by going to kill lions and as a form of security to guard their homes from lions who invaded their cattle bomas.
“It’s now a very good opportunity for us to come out to the community as the Javelin Morans of the Mara to change the idea of the whole community that the Javelin or our spears are now used to win sports, rather than to kill wildlife,” said Nkoile.
The introduction of the Javelin Throw sport will support lion and elephant conservation as the Maasai morans turn their skill in throwing spears into competing with Javelins.
Human-lion conflict was identified as a major challenge in lion conservation in the National Recovery and Action Plan for Lion and Spotted Hyena in Kenya 2020-2030.
“Morans are well-known for handling spears. We are introducing Javelin as a sport to encourage conservation of wildlife. We feel there is a lot of hidden talent in this area when it comes to Javelin as a sport.
What the morans will be doing is using their spears to win rather than to kill, to win in terms of supporting conservation and mitigating human-wildlife conflict,” said Kevin Gichangi, Senior Coordinator, Greater Mau-Mara-Loita Sub landscape, WWF-Kenya.
The African elephant and the lion are listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as endangered and vulnerable respectively, threatened by human-wildlife conflict and habitat loss among other challenges.
In the Mara, there were 427 human-wildlife conflict incidents that resulted in 1,210 livestock deaths and 282 livestock injuries, according to the WWF-Kenya Annual Report FY22. However, no conflict cases were reported in areas where predator proof bomas and lion lights were installed.
“Today’s event marks the beginning of an important conservation sport, that is Javelin. Ideally, the Maasai used the spear to kill lions and the elephants but now we want to educate communities that the spear can be used for sport and one of them is Javelin which the Maasai are very good at.
“We have launched the Javelin Sport in the Mara Siana Conservancy as an awareness sport to the landowners, especially the young men who are energetic so that they can direct their energy in sports rather than killing elephants and lions when they go in their lands,” said Evans Sitati, the Chief Executive Officer, Mara Siana Conservancy.