Faces of Conservation: The Maasai Olympics

In 2010, after growing increasingly concerned over the precipitous decline in local lion populations, Maasai elders partnered with The Big Life organization in order to create an alternative to lion killing as a rite of passage for young men. The result was the Maasai Olympics, first held in 2012 and taking place every two years since. In addition to individual awards for athletic performance, an award is presented to the village that has had the most positive impact on the local ecosystem. As a result of the Olympics, the lion population has rebounded from single digits to 200+.
The Big Life Foundation has also worked in collaboration with the Maasai to create ways to minimize human – wildlife conflict, including compensation programs for farmers and wildlife crossing points along roadways. These programs demonstrate how wildlife conservation efforts can coexist alongside human interests and that local people can (and should) play an integral role in shaping how their lands are utilized, protected, and shared with native species. Through these programs, the greater ecosystem – that of both wildlife and humans – in this part of Kenya has been strengthened.

With human encroachment upon natural ecosystems on the increase, it is important to see successful examples of communities striking a balance between human existence and that of the natural world. This type of integration is key to preventing future conflicts involving land ownership, poaching, resource access, and more.
In 2018, I traveled to Kenya to create portraits of the participants in the Maasai Olympics, as well as rangers working for The Big Life Foundation. My goal was to share images of people working on the front lines of conservation within their own communities. From the elders who initiated collaboration to the youngsters who participate in the Olympics to the rangers whose jobs are directly related to conservation, all play an important role in an interconnected community of people working to create a balance with the natural world, which is intrinsic to their way of life.