By Thomas Mukoya
KIMANA, Kenya (Reuters) - Young Kenyan warriors are no longer pursuing lions to show off their hunting prowess and bravery, they are competing for cash prizes in javelin throwing at the Maasai Olympics instead.
"We have changed the outdated lion hunting culture, as there was a time before the Maasai Olympics when we were killing animals, but now we are protecting them as we coexist in harmony," 22-year-old Moran Joseph Tipape Lekatoo said.
Lekatoo was competing for his Mbirikani Manyatta group in the fourth edition of the Maasai Olympics, where youthful morans, or warriors, from four Manyattas (settlements) -- Rombo, Mbirikani, Kuku and Elselengei -- gather to compete.
"If you compare me to the past warriors, they used to go and kill lions and that does not help you in anyway," said Moses Ntimama, another warrior and participant in the Olympics at the Sidai Oleng Wildlife Sanctuary at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, near Kenya's border with Tanzania.
Government-run Kenya Wildlife Services says there are about 2,000 lions in the East African country, and the biggest threat to them and other carnivores is conflict with humans.
"Instead of killing a lion we compete among ourselves ... the money you receive you take it home to meet your needs," Ntimama told Reuters.
For Kenyan middle distance runner David Rudisha, who holds the world record for 800 metres, the Maasai Olympics are helping to ensure lions remain part of the country's future.
"We are trying to educate and emphasise that it's not the right way to go because we treasure these wild animals, it's part of our heritage, it's part of our culture," Rudisha said.
(Editing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Alexander Smith)