Like many scientists, Dr. Packer, a professor of ecology, evolution and behavior at the University of Minnesota, has fought his share of battles in the pages of professional journals.
But he has also tangled with far more formidable adversaries than dissenting colleagues. He has sparred with angry trophy hunters, taken on corrupt politicians, fended off death threats and, in one case, thwarted a mugging. Like the lioness, his opponents discovered that he is unlikely to give ground.
“My reflex is to confront the danger and go right at it,” he said.
Dr. Packer’s boldness — he concedes some might call it naïveté — eventually led to the upheaval of his life in Tanzania, where for 35 years he ran the Serengeti Lion Project, dividing his time between Minnesota and Africa. Assisted by a bevy of graduate students, he conducted studies of lion behavior that have shaped much of what scientists understand about the big cats.
But in 2014, Tanzanian wildlife officials withdrew his research permit, accusing him of “tarnishing the image of the Government of Tanzania” by making derogatory statements about the trophy hunting industry in emails, according to a letter they sent him. And in April, while visiting the Serengeti to film a BBC documentary, a chief park warden informed him that he had been barred from the country. (Apparently, he had made it through customs by mistake.)
Dr. Packer described the events leading to his banishment in his recently published book, Lions in the Balance: Man-Eaters, Manes, and Men with Guns. It mixes episodes of spy novel intrigue with detailed descriptions of scientific studies and PowerPoint presentations.
To read more about Packer’s work published by the University of Chicago Press, click here.
To read more about Lions in the Balance, his latest book, click here.