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A Maasai moran prepares to throw a Javelin during a competition to mark Earth Hour at the Mara Siana Conservancy on Saturday, 25 March 2023. PHOTO | WWF-KENYA | CAMTECH COMMUNICATIONS
It was a chilly and rainy Saturday morning when the brave morans of Maasai Mara Siana Conservancy who graced Earth Hour celebrations dropped their spears for Javelin. As the rain pounded the metal rooftop of one of the community rangers' offices, the morans of the Mara huddled together in the dimly lit room to catch a glimpse of Julius Yego from the laptop held aloft by one of their tall colleagues.
Yego, the 2015 World Athletics Championship winner and 2016 OIympic Games silver medallist was on the screen via a Zoom call. The excitement was palpable.
The group consisted of young men, who are experienced in throwing spears, a commonplace item in any Maasai household, a tool they’ve used for centuries if not a millenia to safeguard their livestock and homes from wildlife invasion, especially the big cats.
Human-wildlife conflict is rife in community conservation areas where people co-exist with wildlife. The conflict is also the very reason the morans were hurdled together, ready for the first Javelin Throw sport in their area.
On Earth Hour, the morans dropped their spears, and picked the Javelin to cast a light on human-wildlife conflict. Before Earth Hour, they had spent a day or two preparing and practising for the big day.
Now, spurred on by Yego’s encouragement and pledge to support the identification of talent in the communities in the Mara, Amboseli, Tsavo and northern Kenya, the morans were in high spirits as they stepped onto the green patch of open land between an overlooking hill and the Mara Siana Conservancy headquarters.
The rain that pounded earlier during the Zoom call subsided and faded away, leaving a clear blue sky, not hot or cold, a perfect day for the Javelin Throw sport.
Excited, the morans took turns throwing the Javelin, and expertly at that. It was easy to see how transferable their spear-throwing skills were. Numbering over 30, they exchanged the lone orange Javelin, and after several rounds each, three emerged the clear winners.
By nurturing their hidden talents, they can tap their skills to become winners in sports arenas locally, nationally and at the global stage, just like Yego.
This was the birth of a movement, and as Yego said, it needs to be taken across all conservation areas beyond Mara Siana Conservancy to Amboseli, Tsavo and Northern Kenya.
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.
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, WWF-Kenya’s Senior Coordinator, Greater Mau-Mara-Loita Sub landscape.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the African elephant and the lion as endangered and vulnerable respectively, threatened by human-wildlife conflict and habitat loss among other challenges.
“This 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.
By Joel Muinde & Paula Oyomo, WWF-Kenya