Patricia Cruz looks into the motivation of Maasai warriors running in New York Marathon to save lions.
He sets out with his beaded jewellery and beautiful red robe –the shuka, a familiar garment symbolic of his culture. The people around him come from all over the world, and they’ve all come to chase the same thing. He’s familiar with the necessities of a traditional hunt; the focus, determination, and endurance. Except this is not Africa. He’s standing in the middle of New York City with thousands of people, all waiting for the start of the marathon. Anticipating the race, he is calm and sure, knowing that this hunt for a medal is saving lions and protecting his home in Kenya.
In the beautiful Chyulu Hills, a vital wildlife corridor between Tsavo and Amboseli National Parks lies the headquarters for The Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust (MWCT). An NGO created by Luca Belpietro in 2000 with his wife Antonella Bonomi, MWCT helps the local community and fragile ecosystem. Conservation increasingly relies on traditional communities to protect the ecological treasures that exist on the land they own. But the incredible wildlife of Africa and the famous culture of the Maasai both face daunting threats to their long-term survival. The fate of both rests with the Maasai as they work with MWCT to figure out how to benefit from natural resources while preserving them.
For many years, lion hunting was deeply engrained within the traditions of the Maasai culture. It was a way to display manhood and bravery within the community. MWCT’s Head Ranger and Maasai community member, Muterian Ntanin, describes a lion hunt:
“The Moran [young Maasai warriors] sing and dance together and later start to plan where
ABOVE: The 2018 MWCT Marathon Runners form
L to R; David Kanai (Maasai Simba Scout), Mark Somen (MWCT Board Member) and Muterian Ntanin (MWCT Ranger Commander). to attack. They select the best tracker of the warriors to lead the way very early in the morning when it is still dark. Traditionally, once someone spots the lion, they must loudly call onto their ancestors, shouting their names to give them the spirit and courage to spear. This ‘spirit’ is called Enkimanya in Maa. The entire group of Moran starts to shout and the chase begins towards the lion. This is the point where all the Moran get to test their bravery and strength, against each other on who will get the first chance to spear. Depending on the order of who speared the lion, different parts of the lion are given to those warriors to represent their courage. The first to spear is the bravest and receives the tail and mane. In celebration, the Moran dance around
FOR MANY YEARS, LION HUNTING WAS DEEPLY ENGRAINED WITHIN THE TRADITIONS OF THE MAASAI CULTURE.
the killed lion and soon after move towards their boma to announce their victory.
“Moran who was first to spear, with the lion tail, receives a new name in honour of his bravery, receiving the most respect from the entire community.”
Populations of African lions ( ) have declined by 42 per cent over the past 21 years. In East Africa, threats include loss of habitat, poaching for parts, and retaliation for cattle or goats being killed, as humans and their livestock encroach traditional lion territory.
To mitigate the negative impact of lion hunts, MWCT established a partnership with the New York City Marathon, creating an alternative way for Moran of Kuku Group Ranch to display their strength through athleticism.
Races were created for local Maasai to compete, with the top, fastest runners to represent their community in the NYC marathon every November. Outreaches educates the local people on the significance of the marathon campaign: to raise funds towards programmes they benefit from on a daily basis – 26 schools, five health dispensaries, the only doctor within 283,000 acres, clean water, electricity, employment of 135 rangers and 15 Simba Scouts (moran) to protect the ecosystem and its wildlife.
Through this initiative, MWCT helps protect the remaining lion population in Kuku Group Ranch.
“When my community understood that I was going to run the marathon to represent them in New York, they were proud. It brought all of the runners a lot of respect for doing something to help our people. When you come back home after running, you are celebrated very highly within the community, sometimes they are waiting for you at your boma. We were seen as heroes and received blessings when we arrived wearing our medals.,” said Muterian Ntanin, after running the 2018 NYC Marathon.
Since the start of this initiative in 2009, local Maasai of Kuku Group Ranch no longer hunt lions to exhibit their manhood but have now become their guardians.
On 3rd November 2019, three members of the Maasai community will run in New York to raise awareness for their community through the MWCT. To support the team in reaching their $50,000 goal, donate at: www.crowdrise. com/mwctnyc2019.