346 pages, 29 b/w photos
From flat-topped acacia trees to great migrations of wildebeest across an edgeless expanse of grass, the Serengeti is one of the world's most renowned ecosystems. And at the apex of this incredible landscape prowls its seemingly indomitable ruler: the Serengeti lion. These majestic mammals are skillful hunters, iconic, and integral to Serengeti health. But they also commit infanticide, eat local people and destroy local livelihoods, are a source of profit for those who make money shooting or conserving them (and sometimes both), and are in constant danger from the encroachments of another species: humans.
With Lions in the Balance, celebrated lion researcher and conservationist Craig Packer takes us back into the complex, tooth-and-claw worlds of lion conservation and behavior. A sequel to Packer's Into Africa – which gave many readers their first experience of field work in Africa, of Tanzanian roads, of long hours spent identifying lions by their ear marks and scars, and of the joys of bootlegged Grateful Dead tapes beneath savannah moons – this diary-based chronicle of adventure, real-life danger, and corruption will both alarm and entertain. Packer's story offers a look into the future of the lion, one in which the politics of conservation will require survival strategies far more creative and powerful than any now possessed by the citizens of the savannah – humans included.
Packer is sure to infuriate poachers, politicians, and conservationists alike as he minces no words about the problems he sees. But with a narrative stretching from Arusha to Washington, DC, and marked by Packer's signature humor and incredible candor, Lions in the Balance is a tale of courage against impossible odds, a masterly blend of science and storytelling, and an urgent call to action that will captivate a pride of readers.
"As he exposes corruption in Tanzania's hunting industry and tries to get his plan adopted, diary entries show Packer and his colleagues taking on locals, hunters and megalomaniac politicians in a struggle to balance human needs, a lucrative hunting trade and true Serengeti science. His brave accounts of blackmail and death threats are alarming [...] The book makes compelling reading as we journey through pioneering science, dodging the influential government fat cats on the way. Packer is completely candid about the 'ethics' of those instrumental in the future of the King of the Beasts. Let's hope someone will listen."
– Iris Barbier, New Scientist
"A fast-paced, detailed inside look at the politics of lion conservation, the often corrupt big-game hunting fraternity, and Tanzanian government."
– Library Journal
"Packer returns more than a decade after his memoir, Into Africa, with a fast-paced, unsentimental sequel about the kings of the savannah and the politics of protecting them."
"The King of Beasts is in trouble throughout Africa as this hard-headed, clear-eyed book makes unmistakable. Explosive human population growth in the lion's habitat, conversion of wild lands into fields, corrupt government officials, unscrupulous over-harvest by trophy hunters, illegal killing with gun, poison, and spear, lion bones smuggled to Asia – the litany of woe goes on and on. Craig Packer and his coworkers studied lions in the Serengeti region and other parts of Tanzania, adding immeasurably to our knowledge of this magnificent cat. But they also took on the moral task of protecting lions and helping them endure. This stirring book, written with candor and wry humor, should be read by everyone interested in wildlife, as well as concerned about the impact of politics on conservation and the future of our natural treasures."
– George B. Schaller, Panthera and Wildlife Conservation Society, author of The Serengeti Lion: A Study of Predator-Prey Relations
"There is only one Craig Packer; he ploughs his own furrow. Packer's work on lions and the Serengeti ecosystem certainly follows (and supplements) that of George Schaller, Brian Bertram, David Bygott, etc., and his confrontations with officialdom will be familiar to most who have worked with (or read of) wildlife and conservation in Africa, but the Savannas Forever program was uniquely ambitious. Packer tells its story with unusual candor, laying out the facts, pulling no punches, revealing the corruption he observed in his dealings with the hunting fraternity in Tanzania – both among the operators themselves, and at all levels of government. Specific incidences are cited; the names of those involved are given. Accounts of pioneering research also pepper the text; succinctly told, and strategically distributed, they leaven the heavy stuff with fascinating insights into lion ecology and behavior. Personal histories feature, too, giving the book an engaging human empathy. The writing is highly commendable (even enviable!), the science and personal experience episodes beautifully done. I know of no other book like Lions in the Balance."
– John Reader, author of Africa: A Biography of the Continent
1 Fools Rush In
2 Savannas Forever
3 Luke Sidewalker
5 Milk Stains on White Trousers
7 Fade Out
10 Object Permanence
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Craig Packer is professor of ecology, evolution, and behavior and director of the Lion Research Center at the University of Minnesota. He is the author of Into Africa, also published by the University of Chicago Press. He lives in Minneapolis, MN.