The public outcry over the killing of Cecil, Zimbabwe's most famous lion, by a Minnesota dentist, has brought new attention to trophy hunting in a time when wildlife is under increased pressure from human population expansion. While not yet classified as endangered, African lion populations have declined by 42 percent over the past 21 years, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The major causes: habitat loss, poaching and commercial hunting.
University of Minnesota biologist and AAAS member Craig Packer has witnessed firsthand this decline. For more than 30 years he has observed the king of the jungle—in Zimbabwe, Tanzania and South Africa. Among his areas of research are infectious diseases, ecosystem processes in African savannahs, and conservation strategies for mitigating human-lion conflicts. His work has discovered why lions have manes, why they live in groups, why they nurse each other's young, why they do (or don't) hunt cooperatively, and what regulates their population size in natural ecosystems.
In his new book, Lions in the Balance: Man-Eaters, Manes, and Men with Guns, Packer documents two decades of fieldwork revealing insights into both the lives of one of the most iconic and dangerous animals on earth and the risks of protecting them.
In this podcast, Packer reads two excerpts from his book, published by University of Chicago Press. The first selection details a field trip to document the correlation between lion manes and their color, and the second, a trip to a Maasai village to talk to a young child who survived a lion attack.