University of Minnesota
February 24, 2010
Lion expert Craig Packer has been a vocal advocate for the wildlife and people of Africa's great Serengeti Plain.
Craig Packer's work with African lions is Smithsonian magazine cover story
By Deane Morrison
In more than 30 years studying lions up close, Craig Packer has only been reckless once, when an adult male didn't like him getting too near his tranquilized mate.
For Packer, a University of Minnesota ecology professor, it was an educational moment. He learned how fast he could move.
That's just one of many stories about Packer in "The Truth About Lions," an article in the January 2010 issue of Smithsonian magazine (the one with the lion on the cover).
Recognized as the world's foremost lion expert, Packer has helped solve the puzzle of what manes do for male lions, discovered the extent of egalitarianism in female lions, and researched strategies to prevent lion attacks, among many other contributions.
But just because lions are big and fierce, it doesn't mean they're invulnerable. Packer has spearheaded Project Life Lion to combat distemper among lions in Africa's Serengeti Plain, and he helped discover a way to identify lions old enough that sport hunters can shoot them without hurting the species' chances of survival.
Work by Packer and his colleagues has also shown how threats from other lions have led the big cats to adopt a social way of life, the better to protect themselves and especially their cubs.
But now the biggest threat is rural poverty, which leads to habitat loss and also puts villagers at risk of lion attacks. Accordingly, Packer has turned his attention to the people of rural Tanzania, including those who live close to the Serengeti. As director of the Whole Village Project, he is out to discover what types of development assistance work in reducing poverty, improving health, and building stable, sustainable societies, with Tanzanian villagers showing the way.