I met ecologist Craig Packer in 1988. I was a young photographer on assignment in the Serengeti for the first time, trying to feel my way around the craft of natural history photography. I think his first reaction to me was annoyance. He had good reason. I was green and untested in those days. Craig, who’d been director of the Serengeti Lion Project since 1978, was the scientist who knew lions. I was just beginning to learn.
Craig is not an easy man to work around. He’s seen it all and isn’t reluctant to tell you so. But he is rigorous in the integrity of his science. For Craig it’s all about the data and getting the facts right. This made him and his team the keystone collaborators for this month’s cover story on Serengeti lions, written by David Quammen and photographed by Michael (Nick) Nichols.
Craig’s research provided the solid underpinning for David and Nick’s work. “We sat down with him with maps,” Nick says. “He told us where to go and what to look for.” Craig’s is a shoestring operation. His passion comes without frills. His equipment consists of five beat-up Land Rovers held together by wire, a falling-down house with no power, and a staff that works hard for the sheer love of it. “There is nothing,” Nick says, “that even smells of a wasted dollar.” It is all about the research—and the lions.
“Getting into Craig’s head on lions,” Nick continues, “was the primer that allowed me to skip the cliché of the animal we all think we know.”