Ask Him Anything

February 02, 2017

Craig Packer participated in a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) in late December, here are some highlights!

Craig Packer

Photo: Jonathan Pavlica

Are there more lions in captivity than wild?

There are at least 20,000 lions left in the wild, so they still out-number captive lions — but not by much!

What is your opinion on lions (or other animals for that matter) in zoos? Do you wish they had more freedom or do you feel that the lions are cared for in zoos?

By one important measure — breeding — lions fare very well in zoos. Most zoo lions have been sterilized or fitted with contraceptives to prevent a baby boom. Otherwise, zoo lions don't really have enough to do, and they often get obese because of a lack of exercise. If their enclosure were bigger and they were allowed to catch dinner — and also to fail most of the time — their lives would be much better.

Hi there Craig! Do big cats like lions respond to catnip? Although I am aware and respect big cats are not house pets, have you noticed any similarities with their distant cousins? Do you have any funny or cute stories to share? Thank you!

Lions don't go for catnip, alas. It seems to be something that only the smaller cats get excited about. But besides the fact that lions are amazingly sociable and do so many things together, you are always struck by their basic "catness" — they rub their heads together just like a cat may rub your ankle and they make a funny face when they sniff something odd. And the moms carry their cubs just like cats carry their kittens. To me lions are cutest when they flop on top of each other — they are very tactile and affectionate, but they also weigh a ton, so the lion at the bottom of the pile may have to struggle to get from under the scrum.

Do you work directly with the lions? If so,are you not afraid of them somehow hurting you?

I've handled hundreds of lions over the years, and I was never worried — because they had always been immobilized so that we could take a blood sample or attach a radio collar. We would sometimes dart one lion in the middle of a large group then drive our LandRover between the immobilized lion and its pridemates, operate quickly with the syringe and collar, and then hop back in the car. But I also interviewed a number of families whose loved-ones were eaten by lions, so I would never encourage ANYONE from getting too close to a wild lion.

Want more? Read the full AMA online!