Magazine article Geographical

Lions in the Balance: Man-Eaters, Manes, and Men with Guns

Magazine article Geographical

Lions in the Balance: Man-Eaters, Manes, and Men with Guns

Article excerpt

LIONS IN THE BALANCE: Man-Eaters, Manes, and Men with Guns

by Craig Packer

The University of Chicago Press; 24.50 [pounds sterling]; hardback

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

We can all agree that safeguarding the future of lions is a splendid idea. There is likely to be less concord when it comes to how this vital goal might be achieved. Few figures have made a more significant, if sometimes controversial, contribution to the debate than Craig Packer. Packer's credentials as a 'lion expert' are hugely impressive. He has spent decades researching the subject, published widely, guided dozens of graduate students to their PhDs, and his knowledge of (and affection for) the Serengeti and surrounding regions appears to be boundless.

No-one likes lions more than Packer and no-one is more keenly aware of the threats they face: from disease to the encroachment of farming to human population growth. There is also the issue of human beings killing lions for sport. Packer, rest assured, is not attracted by the 'grinning idiots who think they're Real Men because they just shot a lion'. He looks askance at the 'macho chat around the campfire' and the 'inexperienced, impatient nouveau riche who spray bullets at anything that moves'.

For all this, however. Packer was willing to explore the notion that hunting, if only out of its own self-interest, might be able to play a role in lion conservation. In an ideal world, responsible companies, who played by strict rules, cared for their territories, and ploughed money into conservation projects might turn out to be unlikely allies. The world, alas, is not ideal, and that included Tanzania--the focus of Packer's energies. He claims to have discovered widespread mismanagement within the hunting fraternity: trophy quotas that were frequently ignored and short-term gains trumping long-term sustainability. Into the bargain, rural communities apparently gained precious little financial or social benefit from their proximity to hunting blocks--they were sometimes 'treated like pests'--and, perhaps most damagingly of all, the wrong kinds of lions were routinely being shot. Kill a male lion before he reaches the age of six and you remove the possibility of him siring offspring. …

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