Entries in maasai olympics kenya (2)


Interview with Samson Parshina, President & Chairman of the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust

Epic Road recently had the pleasure of speaking with Samson Parashina, President and Chairman of the Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust. We discussed the inspiration behind the Trust, its unique mission and impact it’s having on the ground dealing with wildlife conservation and human/wildlife conflict, as well as preservation of the Maasai Culture.

1. What is the MWCT and what inspired its creation?

The Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust (MWCT) is a community-based organization, founded in 2000 by Luca Belpietro and Antonella Bonomi, founders of Campi ya Kanzi, our tourism partner.  The mission of the Trust is to protect biodiversity, encourage sustainable management practices, nurture young leaders, and empower local Maasai communities to play an active role in the conservation of their natural ecosystem (in this case, the Kuku Group Ranch concession in Chyulu Hills, also part of Campi ya Kanzi). 

Luca and Antonella worked hard to develop a pioneering partnership between professional conservationists and the Maasai community, and I proudly assisted them in communicating the key message that conserving wilderness and allowing wildlife to thrive can indeed be economically beneficial.  

2. What are the goals of the MWCT and where does the work primarily take place?

The work of the Trust takes place in the southern part of Kenya, specifically on the Maasai land that lies between the protected National Parks (Tsavo, Amboseli, Chyulu) within the world-famous Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem and Chyulu Hills—Hemingway’s "Green Hills of Africa."  MWCT's programs operate in the collectively owned Kuku Group Ranch, an area of 280,000 acres, which contains critical wildlife migration corridors and habitat reserves, as well as rivers and springs that supply fresh water to more than 7 million Kenyans.

MWCT has three main programs areas: Conservation, Health, and Education, and the Trust manages a number of initiatives within each, including:

  • Sanctioning conservation zones to secure critical wildlife corridors, grassland reserves, watersheds, springs and forests.
  • Coordinating efforts to assess carbon credits proposals and other watershed services to bring additional revenue to the community as Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES).
  • Supporting 19 primary schools and one secondary school within Kuku Group Ranch, reaching approximately 7000 students.
  • Running Kanzi Academy, a special academy for highly talented students, along with a post-secondary training program in tourism. 
  • Conducting medical outreach to remote areas, and developing innovative ways to advocate for the improvement of health in Maasailand.  
  • Supporting four local health care facilities and employing the only doctor serving the community, along with nurses and support staff.

3. What makes the MWCT unique? How does it get its funding, and does it make a difference that the Trust is spearheaded by a Maasai? Can you elaborate?

MWCT’s model is unique in that our programs are designed to provide sustainable economic benefits to the Maasai.  By partnering with and employing local Maasai, MWCT ensures the community’s full participation in working to ensure our mutually beneficial long-term interests.

As an ambassador, I negotiate all MWCT agreements with local leaders.  My fellow Maasai embrace this, especially when they recognize that my efforts and their participation result in tangible economic benefits paid directly to them.  Before the existence of the Trust, the nearest healthcare service was 60km away.  Now, everybody in this community benefits, and understands that their future depends on the sustainable management and conservation of all natural resources, from wildlife to rangeland.

Our funding is providing trough the tourism partnership with Campi ya Kanzi and through fund raising efforts, spearheaded in the US by our US Chairman Edward Norton, who is also a UN Ambassador for Biodiversity.  We also have a multiyear funding platform, supported by organizations such as the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation, Planet Heritage Foundations, and many others.

MWCT has also helped Kuku Group Ranch implement an innovative PES model, which levies a tourism surcharge of $100/day on every guest who stays at Campi ya Kanzi. Proceeds from the surcharge go to fund a number of Education, Health and Conservation programs.

4.  How does the MWCT take a collaborative approach to wildlife protection and Maasai Culture preservation?

Within the community, MWCT helps to organize the Maasai Olympics, which offers young Maasai warriors the alternative to compete athletically—not hunt and kill lions to prove their bravery, as would be a traditional rite of passage at this stage.  We also employ warriors to monitor our predator population, another way to encourage them embrace conservation, while still keeping them engaged with lions.

Outside the community MWCT works with several important public and private partners, including the Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) to prevent illegal activities, reduce human/wildlife conflict, and monitor impact on biodiversity.  KWS has also provided professional training to our rangers and relies on them to manage the ecosystem fauna.

We also have a very productive partnership with the Zoological Society of London (with whom we have pioneered a monitoring protocol which will be adopted in the entire eco-system); with Conservation International (with whom we are developing a carbon credit PES); and with AECOM (with whom we are studying a watershed PES).

5.  What gets you excited about the work you're doing? Are you seeing an impact on the ground that is measurable?

On the ground, holistic conservation—which is what MWCT is all about—clearly pays off.  The Trust employs 247 people (not including the 70 people employed by Campi ya Kanzi).  We also support over 50 teachers and 20 local primary schools, which reach 7,000 pupils.  We supply health care to literally thousands of people who have never had access, and the wildlife population on our land—including predators—is steadily increasing.   All these point to a better livelihood overall for my community, and Trust just continues to grow.  I hope to not sound presumptuous, but I honestly think that what we do is simply amazing.

6. What's the easiest way for people to get involved with your work?

You can help us, and get involved in three main ways:

  • Come and visit. The ecotourism safari experience you will experience at Campi ya Kanzi is profound and unmatched in all of Africa, and the conservation fee paid to the Trust will ensure that your visit has a direct impact on preserving the very same wilderness, wildlife and people you will encounter while there.
  • Donate directly.  Your donations will help support amazing projects in conservation, education and health, and are tax deductible for both U.S. and Italian citizens. 
  • Doctors, nurses and teachers are encouraged to volunteer at MWCT, and we are working on developing other volunteer programs, as well as expanding community services opportunities for guests at Campi ya Kanzi. 

7. For people who do visit, do you see a transformation? Do any of them stay involved and, if so, in what capacity?

Each visitor to Campi ya Kanzi and, as such, to the Trust itself, have their own individual experiences, but guests who are willing to engage and learn get involved in a very profound manner with the Maasai culture, and often develop a strong sense of attachment, not just to the community but to our entire approach.  Our guests often leave impassioned, and with a strong desire to support us, and will do so in a variety of ways—donations, fundraisers, promoting us on social media etc.—and this ongoing dedication has certainly helped MWCT become what it is today.  We love showing our model to people around the world, and the ongoing support we continue to receive from past visitors is astounding.



The Maasai Olympics


Epic Road’s mission since its founding has been to take travelers on luxurious, philanthropic trips to Africa and the Arctic. Whether it be dropping Luci Solar Lights to energy poor communities or visiting animal conservation sights, ER allows you to create a positive change first hand.

The Maasai tribes of Kenya and Tanzania are taking part in their own conservational efforts with the Maasai Olympics. This sports competition is used in place of the Maasai tradition of teaching new warriors to kill lions in order to compete for women, display their bravery, and distinguish themselves as leaders. 

There is a small group of Maasai leaders referred to as the “menye layiok” which translates to “fathers of the warriors”. These select few are responsible for teaching all new warriors the required skills, and in 2011-2012, the menye layiok made the progressive decision to discourage lion hunting by hosting the Maasai Olympics: an athletic competition that revolves around the skills of a warrior. These skills include a 200m sprint, 5k run, high jump, spear throw, and rungu throw. Various prizes are given out to winning athletes, from a stud Borana bull to scholarship money.

The Maasai Olympics also has a powerful educational component in the form of a short documentary that is shown to all new Maasai warriors. The film is titled “There Will Always Be Lions?” and was created by filmmaker Kire Godal. It preaches that although tradition is an important part of their tribe’s culture, hunting lions and other endangered wildlife is no longer acceptable. Failing to take conservational action, the menye layiok recognize, will lead to an unsustainable future for the Maasai. Another great film produced by the Big Life Foundation about the Maasai Olympics can be viewed here:


The event is expected to take place again in December of this year. To explore the culture of the Maasai and other African tribes, visit our African Safaris page to plan your next trip!