U of M 'Lion Project' Gets Clawed by Lack of Funding

Updated: 06/09/2015 11:40 AM KSTP.com By: Todd Wilson

A Minnesota connection to the lions of Tanzania may be in jeopardy.

University of Minnesota researchers are studying lions and other wildlife on the plains of Serengeti National Park in research called "The Lion Project." A KSTP crew traveled to Africa in February to learn more about the project.

Now, with the project in jeopardy we checked in with Ali Swanson. She says "Snapshot Serengeti" is her way of bringing one of the seven natural wonders of Africa to your fingertips.    
"There's a lot of my own blood and sweat and tears invested," Swanson said.

Swanson helped set up 225 camera traps near game trails and watering holes to take pictures of passing wildlife predators and prey.

This gives them the ability to study how more than 30 species are spread across the landscape and how they interact with lions and one another. The cameras produce more than 1 million images a year. But all of the research and snapshots could be coming to an end. 

"We came up for renewal, and our application was rejected," Swanson said.

The National Science Foundation has funded them since the 1980s. She says the application process and competition for money has grown fierce.

"NSF funding is very competitive. Just because they've funded us for decades doesn't give us an absolute guarantee that they will continue to do so," Swanson said.

The NSF receives approximately 40,000 proposals each year for research, education and training projects. Only about 11,000 of the proposals are actually funded. The foundation's budget is just under $6.9 billion.

Snapshot Serengeti runs on a shoestring budget. Since they don't have any other backing they have started crowd funding. 

Swanson says they've started an indiegogo campaign called "Save Snapshot Serengeti." So far they have raised just over $6,000, and they only have 12 days left as of this report.

"To get us through the end of 2013, we need $30,000, and then to get us through 2014 we'll need another 100-and-some-thousand dollars," Swanson said.