U of M lion researcher turns to 'crowdfunding'

Lion researcher
The University of Minnesota's Craig Packer has spent many years studying the lions of Africa. He is shown in a file photo from June 2009 at his research station in Tanzania, holding the jawbone of a lion.
MPR Photo/Kerri Miller

A University of Minnesota ecology professor and expert in lion behavior has turned to "crowdfunding" to raise enough money to transmit thousands of images over the Internet of lions from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.

The Minnesota Daily reports that professor Craig Packer and his crew of staff and students have placed more than 200 heat- and motion-activated cameras in the park.

The cameras "capture an incredible amount of pictures and we are now in position to share them with the public, but this where our project has stalled and we could use the public's help," Packer said.

The cameras produce more than a million images a year, but bringing those images back to the university has been difficult due to lack of Internet access at the research station.

So the team is trying to raise $14,000 to put their station online so they can transmit the images back to Minnesota and make them publicly available on the Internet.

Packer said his research gets most of its funding through the National Science Foundation, but budget cuts there have prompted him to turn to the public.

Male lion
A male lion reclines on a rock near Lion House, Craig Packer's research station in Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, in a file phjoto from June 2009.
MPR Photo/Kerri Miller

The group has turned to the SciFund Challenge online, which lets people make small donations to scientific projects. The challenge began Nov. 1 and ends Dec. 15.

"People who are interested in this type of work can actually donate and do their part in helping us complete this project," Packer said.

Packer said they also want to encourage the idea of crowdfunding for scientific research in general.

"We really do want to engage a large number of people to become citizen scientists and share that sense of excitement we feel when we're conducting our research," he said.

Patrick Dousa, a graduate student at the Humphrey School and a research assistant for the ecology department, has gotten up close with the lions and assisted in the setup of the cameras.

He's also excited about increasing the public's involvement in the work. "I'm really interested in the idea of citizen scientists and having people see these images and know the differences between the lions," Dousa said.

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Information from: The Minnesota Daily

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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