Book Review: Lions in Balance by Craig Packer
December 2015, Volume 13-6

Craig Packer’s book provides insight into his behavior and eventual expulsion from Tanzania and explains his rise to hero status and fall in the hunting community. Parts are quite detailed, but remain vague when it serves the author’s agenda. There is rather little about lion, but what there is, is perceptive.

Packer started using his credentials and charisma to catapult his wife and himself into a greater “certification” business venture. So the book is really about Packer’s tribulations: those who do not share his views and support his schemes to employ his wife at an unrealistic pay range must be corrupt. Eventually Packer turns on everyone, saying “my dreams of building Savannas Forever [the Packer-style certification scheme] have largely been replaced by the less noble desire just to neutralize a few people in the hunting industry.”

The Tanzania Professional Hunters Association was not willing to entertain Packer’s never-ending, naive ideas about supervising every facet of safari hunting or to supporting his wife’s move to Dar as the czar of Savannas Forever [Editor’s Note: Google Savannas Forever to find out more details on the project]. Following this rejection and well-founded criticism by other experts on sustainable hunting in Africa, Packer resorted to writing damaging articles. Packer discloses in the book that he drafted a petition for the App I lion uplisting unless he could continue in a controlling position over most aspects of hunting, most wholly unrelated to lion. He even stipulated “terms” to the writer of this review to make this petition go away.

Tanzania applies the age-based approach for lion hunting, yet Packer denies this. Three months after its unanimous acceptance by TAHOA in 2004, Packer ran out of patience at the January 2005 SCI Convention, where he saw the mounts of what now were considered under-aged lion displayed at the show floor. This is representative of his poor judgment, since lion mounts displayed in early 2005 must have been hunted mostly at least one year earlier. His book also reveals that Packer’s relatively naive expectations and that he was being manipulated by animal rightists and industry doubters.

Packer resorted to blackmail threats to move things along. Unless the Tanzanian Government and safari operators acted within his deadlines he threatened to publish and circulate negative articles full of “inferred” facts and conclusions that were not necessarily true and certainly disputable. When warned that such tactics would lead to listing proposals, he would blow it off and assert that no one was opposed to lion hunting.

There were many legitimate reasons for delay in adopting age-based harvesting strategy, starting with researching distinctions between 5- and 6-year old lion; subsequently the practical training of professional hunters. A Hunter’s Guide to Aging Lions in Eastern and Southern Africa, prepared by Packer and others was not completed until 2007. The cost of administering the aging program is a quarter of a million dollars a year, largely funded by Shikar Safari Club Foundation.

Packer knows that lion off-take in Tanzania has been reduced from over 200 to 70, 52, to 43 per annum today. When his insistence on remaining in control and having the raw data even before the actual authorities did was rejected, Packer resorted to knowingly misrepresent that Tanzania lion are in decline, or must be, and the age approach is not being implemented until Prof. Packer himself can verify it. Those conclusions are dishonest and manipulative.

Packer’s many problems in Tanzania did not start from lion aging issues; they stemmed from his stubborn insistence on establishing the costly and cumbersome scheme of Savannas Forever to “reform” everything and his persistence after many rejections. This was compounded by manipulations, reckless representations and name calling, and retaliatory collaboration with enemies of regulated sustainable use of wildlife resources. Chapter after chapter the book is full of juvenile snitching. Packer started with a self-perceived omnipotence because of the eager acceptance of his lion conservation formula by hunters. The formula is being implemented today but without him. Packer’s allegation that the aged-based lion harvesting strategy is not being implemented is yet another manipulation.

For the interested reader, here are some lion-related tidbits from LIONS IN BALANCE:

  • [A]sk most rural Tanzanians what they think about wildlife and they’ll probably tell you that if they can’t eat it, they’d just as soon eradicate it. Elephants and lions? The two (are the) most hated species in the country.
  • A decision has been made somewhere, sometime that a lion must die to generate revenue for the government of Tanzania to justify setting aside 300,000 square kilometers for wildlife.
  • “Call-up” techniques underestimate the true number of Serengeti lions but also the error varied by different degrees in different circumstances … This means that no one may ever know how many lions exist in most parts of Africa, since there are few places where lions can be studied as closely as the Serengeti … And if no one can count the number of lions in a hunting reserve, they can never set a scientific quota.
  • Over a quarter of Tanzania’s surface area is devoted to the trophy hunting … most of the land is no place for a photo safari. So hunting could well provide the best possible incentive for conserving vast tracks of land.
  • [I]t would be impossible to overhunt lions if clients only shot males that were at least five or six years of age. Imposing an age minimum meant that no surveys would be necessary after all (despite potential Appendix I CITES listing).
  • ..had exaggerated the risks of infanticide at least tenfold….[at CITES]
  • Far more land is set aside for trophy hunters than for national parks. Take away the incentive for hunters to grow a healthy crop of lions, and the king of beasts would be eliminated from most of its remaining range. Love it or hate it, lions needed trophy hunting as much as trophy hunting needed lions. [His description of his own position at CITES CoP.]
  • I certainly agree that no one can reliably identify a six-year-old male compared to a five-year-old.
  • The problem for lions is not reproduction – it is finding a place where they can live in which they won’t get poisoned, speared, or shot.
  • Trying to set up hunting certification had been a stupid idea…the hunting industry could never have afforded to pay for “conservation certification”.
  • I came up with Savannas Forever…a system for “conservation hunting” and got the Director to promise to require all the hunters to join Savannas Forever. [That would provide his wife a six figure annual salary and cost more than a million dollars a year.]

Editor’s Note: If you want to read background material on African lion conservation and hunting you can download lion related articles – many of them by Craig Packer – in the African Indaba collection “Conservation and safari hunting of lion in African Indaba 2003 -2015”.

Author: John J Jackson III, Conservation Force