Dr. Craig Packer

Craig Packer, an associate professor of biology at the University of Minnesota, has studied East Africa's lions since 1978.

Name ID 481

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Packer, Craig The Lions of Ngorongoro Crater
Extract Author: Craig Packer
Page Number: a
Extract Date: 1979

The Lions of Ngorongoro Crater

In January 1979 Craig Packer with colleague and wife Anne Pusey, began their study of lions in Nogorongoro Crater, a 2,000-foot-deep caldera with a hundred square mile floor located at the eastern edge of Tanzania's Serengeti Plain. The craters's cliff walls serve to isolate about 100 lions from their nearby Serengeti counterparts.

Suspecting the lions were subjected to repeated inbreeding and that they may conceal genetic vulnerabilities, the Packers set about reconstructing the family tree of at least five generations of every lion that lived in the crater. The scientific mystery would take ten years to solve.

Extract ID: 1416

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Packer, Craig The Lions of Ngorongoro Crater
Page Number: f
Extract Date: 1979

All the lion photographs

The method used by the Packers incorporated the monumental task of assembling and organizing all the lion photographs they could find from around the world, from biologists and scientists who had studied the crater lions, through to film crews and tourists who had journeyed to the crater floor since the road granting access was completed in 1959.

In 1979 Packer and Pusey began using lion ID cards with pictures of individuals at various ages, noting field marks such as whisker spots and ear notches to pinpoint lions. They contacted preceding researchers who had photographed or drawn the same lions or their forebears and solicitied photographs taken by tourists, receiving hundreds to help fill in the gaps.

Eventually their catalog put faces on more than 500 individuals, most now dead. Their detective work determined that all of today's crater lions descend from only 15 lions that either survived the flies or invaded Ngorongoro shortly thereafter.

This photo chronology revealed that the entire crater population descended from 15 animals. Only eight individuals survived the plague while the others were males that may have entered the crater from the Serengeti. The plague had removed so many adult males from the crater that fresh blood was able to enter. Once the residents resumed breeding, they had several large sets of sons that monopolized the crater prides and kept any additional immigrant males out. Thus the current crater population has been subject to close inbreeding since 1969, about five lion generations.

Extract ID: 3908

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Packer, Craig The Lions of Ngorongoro Crater
Extract Author: Craig Packer
Page Number: h

Ngorongoro Lions

"I visited Henry Fosbrooke again in October 1990. When I told him that I suspected the crater lions had been through previous periods of genetic decline, he led me into his large library and said, 'You should read these.' They were accounts of big-game expeditions that went into the crater in the early twenties. During two weeks in 1922 one hunting party bagged seven adult lions and badly wounded another three. The last expedition was in 1924, when five more lions were killed. Considering that there are never more than about 30 adult lions in the crater and that most of the wounded animals probably died as well, the breeding population must have been severely reduced. Our genetic assays more than 60 years later may well have revealed the results of this onslaught.

The Serengeti and Ngorongoro were declared wildlife sanctuaries in the late twenties to protect the lions from further hunting. Ngorongoro Crater became a world heritage in 1979 in recognition of its special significance as a microcosm of African savanna. The popular appeal of charismatic carnivores such as lions has often led to the conservation of habitat that sustains a host of other species. But living at the top of the food chain inevitably means that predators often end up in small, threatened populations.

The history of the crator lions may represent the future for many other large vertebrates. Increased human habitation around Africa's national parks has formed virtually impermeable boundaries, and recently many species have become isolated in small populations, making them even more vulnerable to environmental catastrophe. Add to this the effects of close inbreeding, and many small populations may well be caught in a downward spiral.

A trio of males patrol their crater territory. Ironically, they are strong enough to deter what their population most needs -- the entry of outside lions with new genes 'Perpetuating these populations will require more than just protecting them from hunters and poachers. The crater lions are conspicuous and have therefore proved surprisingly easy to monitor. The fates of most other small populations will run their course undetected.'

Craig Packer

Extract ID: 3910

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Newman, Owen Pride in Peril
Extract Date: 1996 February 18

life and death of every lion in Tanzania�s Ngorongoro Crater

BBC Wildlife Portfolio - Feb 1996

For more than 25 years, researchers from the Serengeti Lion Project, . now run by Dr Craig Packer, have recorded the details of the life and death of every lion in Tanzania�s Ngorongoro Crater. Equivalent to a century of human history, their records reveal the decline, fall and rise of dynasties. Owen Newman filmed the life of one of these prides over seven months for The Natural World series. The resulting film, Lions - Pride in Peril, will be shown on BBC2 on 18 Feb 1966.

Extract ID: 1317

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Bertram, Brian Lions
Page Number: 8

Much of what is known about the life of lions

Much of what is known about the life of lions in the wild has come from long term studies of them in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. Starting in 1966, George Schaller, then I [Brian Bertram], then David Bygott and Jeanette Hanby, and then Craig Packer and Anne Pusey, and several associates, have been able to keep tabs on the fortunes of individually recognized lions and their prides for over 30 years. There have been few other studies of individual wild animals that have been going so long, or that have yielded so much information,

Extract ID: 1394

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Lion Research
Extract Date: 1999 July

Who's who

University of Minnesota, Lion Project

Dr. Craig Packer, the leader of the Lion Research Center for the last 20 plus years. Dr. Packer is a professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior at the University of Minnesota.

Peyton West, Ph.D Student at the University of Minnesota, returnsed to the Serengeti in 1998 to continue her field research. Peyton is focussing on why lions have manes, and some of the research questions she is addressing can be found at: Lion Mane Research in the Serengeti.

Karyl Whitman, the guru of the Maswa Game Reserve research project. Karyl is currently back in Africa continuing her research, which you can read about at our summary on the (see: Maswa Game Reserve.)

Julius Nyahongo, a Tanzanian student who joined the Lion Research team in September, 1998. Julius will be working with Karyl Whitman in the Maswa Game Reserve, helping her monitor the lions and understanding the general biodiversity of the area, i.e doing game counts, looking at animal tracks, and learning the density of animal species living in that area.

Bernard Kissui, a Tanzanian student who also joined in September, 1998. Kissui will be working in the Ngorongoro Crater , trying to determine whether disease, inbreeding, human encroachment on the rim or ecological changes on the crater floor or some combination of these factors is responsible for the decline in lion population over the last few years.

Extract ID: 1393

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23 Aug 2002 Publishes: West, Peyton M. and Packer, Craig Sexual Selection, Temperature, and the Lion's Mane

Extract ID: 3562

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Guardian (UK)
Extract Author: Tim Radford, science editor
Extract Date: August 23, 2002

Dark secret that gives male lions a head start

Gentlemen may prefer blondes but lionesses go for males with dark and bouffant manes, researchers report today.

But the alpha males pay a price. They may get the lion's share of the lionesses, but they also take the heat. Dark colours absorb sunlight, pale colours reflect it.

Peyton West, an ecologist at the University of Minnesota, said: "A male with a dark mane may have to work harder to stay cool, behaviourally or physiologically, and is advertising that toughness, along with his toughness in battle.

"Dark colour tends to be found in high testosterone males. Therefore, it isn't surprising that females prefer darker manes, and males would be intimidated."

Ms West reports today in the US journal Science that she and a colleague, Craig Packer, devised a test, setting up pairs of dummy lions in the Serengeti plain of Tanzania, then broadcasting sounds of hyenas eating at a kill - a sure way of ringing the dinner gong for lions. Given a choice of long and short manes, males approached the short-maned dummy nine out of 10 times.

Confronted with light or dark manes, males went for the light one. Lionesses, however, showed a distinct preference for dark manes, nine out of 10 times. And over the long term, when females had a choice of males, they selected the darkest mane in 13 out of 14 cases. Darker manes also had higher testosterone levels.

The research might help conservation. "As climate changes, things like manes, brightness of bird plumage and size of deer antlers may be sensitive bio-indicators," Prof Packer said. "They can tell how well an animal is doing in the environment."

Sexual Selection, Temperature, and the Lion's Mane

Peyton M. West and Craig Packer

Science 2002 August 23; 297: 1339-1343.

Extract ID: 3561

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BBC internet news
Extract Date: 4 August, 2004

Disease bouts knock crater lions

The research is detailed in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Numbers of lions in the Ngorongoro Crater have been knocked severely by several bouts of acute disease over the past 40 years.

Between 1994 and 2001, outbreaks of canine distemper virus have kept the Lion population low, with numbers dipping to just 29 individuals in 1998.

The scientists suggest that climate change, or an increasing local human population could be to blame.

The research is detailed in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania is a truly unique place. The crater, which is 610m deep and 260km squared, is a microcosm of East African scenery and wildlife.

Many crater animals, like lions, live there and there alone, making it a near-contained mini biosphere.

For scientists that is very interesting, because it is easier for them to know exactly what pressures the creatures face. They can follow a population of animals over time, and record how changes in things like food supply, or competition, affect them.

The lions of the Ngorongoro Crater have been monitored closely since the 1960s. One question researchers wanted to answer was what regulated their population numbers.

In large carnivores like lions, one might expect food supply to be the main limiting factor. But in recent years, disease is a more likely restriction, according to Bernard Kissui and Craig Packer, of the University Minnesota, US.

There are probably enough prey animals like buffalo in the Ngorongoro Crater to support about 120 lions.

But at various times over the last 40 years Lion numbers have dropped well below that - and in the last 10 years there have rarely been more than 60 in the crater.

Kissui and Packer believe that disease is the biggest culprit in this population dip.

In 1962, the crater Lion population crashed from about 100 to 12, which coincided with an outbreak of blood-sucking stable flies.

After this severe knock, the population climbed again, to reach over 100 by 1975. Lion numbers then simmered away at fairly stable proportions until 1983, when they went into decline again - reaching a low point of 29 individuals in 1998.

"Disease appears to be the only factor that has held the crater Lion population below its carrying capacity for the past 10 years," Bernard Kissui and Craig Packer write in their research paper.

Although many diseases threaten lions, canine distemper virus (CDV), which normally affects dogs, has been a particular menace to the big cats.

Climate change?

The researchers are not entirely sure what has caused this increase in levels of disease.

They suggest it could be due to the fact that there are many more humans in the area now, and with them come domestic dogs - which carry CDV.

Or disease outbreaks could be exacerbated by climate change. In the last 10 years East Africa has suffered many more droughts and floods, which seem to coincide with bouts of disease.

"The weather in East Africa was more variable in the 1990s than in the 1970s and 1980s, and all four Lion die-offs coincided with drought and flood," write Kissui and Packer.

"The 1962 [stable fly] plague coincided with heavy floods that immediately followed a severe drought in 1961... and the 2001 CDV epidemic followed the drought of 2000."

Whatever the cause of the disease outbreaks, they put the fragile population of Ngorongoro Crater lions at serious risk.

Kissui and Packer concluded: "Endangered populations can remain at serious risk even with a large, stable food supply and no real threats from competing species."

Extract ID: 4726

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Khamsi, Roxanne Lion attacks on the rise
Extract Date: 17 Aug 2005

Bush pigs lure lions to homesteads where they attack farmers.

Lions are killing people in Tanzania three times as often as they did 15 years ago, according to a survey. The authors of the study say that farmers should clear their land of bush pigs, an attractive prey to lions, to reduce the number of clashes between lions and local people.

Since 1990, lions have killed more than 563 Tanzanians and injured at least 308, the researchers report in Nature1, with fatal attacks increasing markedly over time.

The problem seems to be the rising human population. In the past, lions have typically hunted wildebeast rather than bush pigs. But as Tanzanian communities have grown, the number of usual prey has diminished.

Villagers have a tendency to sleep in their fields to guard their crops against nocturnal pests such as bush pigs. These farmers cannot afford to buy fences, explains lead author Craig Packer of the University of Minnesota in St Paul.

So the pigs get in to the crops, the lions follow the pigs into the farms, and then the villagers fall prey to the lions. Both farmers and their families are killed: 18% of victims in the study period were younger than 10 years old.


The intensified attacks have also taken a toll on the lions, thanks to people hunting the killers in retaliation. Experts fear Lion populations are now shrinking rapidly.

"They want to kill the problem animals, but it's difficult to know who the problem animals are, so sometimes the response is indiscriminate," Packer says. "The number of lions being killed by people has probably increased by ten fold over the past decade." There are roughly 100,000 lions in Africa, and at least a quarter of these live in Tanzania, he estimates.

The conflict has concerned wildlife biologists. "It is problem number one when it comes to Lion conservation. There's no close second," Packer stresses. He adds that outsiders often have an impression that lions are killed for trophy hunting, but this isn't the main issue. "People outside of Africa seem to have forgotten how threatening these animals are," says Packer.

The new survey provides the first concrete evidence that Lion attacks are worst in areas with bush-pig infestations. Researchers suggest that digging trenches around fields to keep these animals away from crops would reduce the number of lions that follow them into areas with humans.

"There has long been a sense of helplessness in these areas," Packer says. "We are trying to provide fresh ideas."

Extract ID: 5084