Outliers: “Wildlife conservation is about solving human problems”


Dr Krithi Karanth spent much of his childhood in wildlife sanctuaries in India, following his father, the eminent zoologist Dr Ullas Karanth, as he studied and tracked tigers. “Wildlife was not a conscious choice, although people think it is an obvious choice for me. My parents are both scientists, both passionate about their respective careers. So I wanted to be a scientist and call myself Dr Karanth like them someday, but I wasn’t particularly focused on wildlife.

There is another Dr Karanth in the family – his grandfather, the famous writer and theater personality Dr Shivram Karanth. “He really was a polymath. I spent a lot of time with him when he was 77 when I was born and he died when I was 18. I absorbed a lot passively from him as well as from my parents.

Rediscover the fauna

She first became interested in environmental science and geography as an undergraduate student at the University of Florida. It wasn’t until her masters at Yale University that she became completely addicted to wildlife conservation. “For my thesis project, I ended up coming back to India and working in the Bhadra wildlife reserve. It was the tipping point where I officially decided I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.

However, she claims not to be a traditional wildlife biologist as she has never been obsessed with a single species. Instead, she chose to focus on the larger picture of protecting nature as a whole, including the human aspect. “In my opinion, to be truly successful in conservation, you have to solve human problems, improve the condition and the lives of people who live around nature and near wildlife sanctuaries,” she says.

Therefore, his research has focused on understanding human-wildlife conflict, studying the impact of infrastructure on wildlife, and finding solutions, whether using tourism and other economic opportunities to improve people’s lives or education for conservation and conflict mitigation. “This intersection of biology, economics, geography and social science is what keeps my brain excited because it’s so interdisciplinary. I’ve been doing this for 23 years now, ”says Karanth.

Human-wildlife conflict

Karanth’s most comprehensive project has been to understand human-wildlife conflict. “For this, we researched 3,000 villages across India, which revealed that India is a high conflict country. We have between 80,000 and 100,000 incidents of crop loss, property and livestock damage, injuries and deaths, which are reported to the government for proper compensation.

The problem is that in India, the fauna is surrounded by very high densities of people, which is not seen anywhere else in the world. In addition, only 5% of the total area is reserved for wildlife. By comparison, China is now over 20% and even small countries like Bhutan and Nepal have set aside 30% of their land for wildlife.

“We really need to find solutions for people who live within a 5 to 20 km radius of animal parks, because if we want wildlife to maintain and survive, depending on the parks will not be enough,” she said, adding that if solutions can be created to support wildlife in India, the learnings can be applied globally.

Projects galore

While the first 10 years of his career were devoted to the love of science, over the past 12-13 years the emphasis has been on good science to identify real problems and then find workable solutions. “The conservation programs that we have implemented on a large scale – Wild Seve, Wild Shaale, Wild Surakshe – are not only doing that, but also having a tangible impact on the ground. ”

The projects focus on working with communities. Wild Shaale works with rural schools, helping students understand our connection to nature, teaching them why human-wildlife conflict occurs and how to deal with it. “Before the pandemic, the program was a huge success. We visited over 400 schools and interacted with over 20,000 children living near wildlife reserves. As scientists, we also measured the actual impact of the program and found that it had increased interest, knowledge and empathy.

Wild Seve focuses on mitigating human-wildlife conflict and rebuilding people’s lives. “For two parks, Bandipur and Nagarhole in Karnataka, a staff of six has served 600 conflict-affected villages for more than five years now. If you are faced with such an incident and report it to our toll free number, our staff will arrive at the scene, help you put together the documentation to ensure that your complaint will not be dismissed. So far, the initiative has processed around 18,000 requests.

The most recent program, Wild Surakshe, focuses on public health and safety in and around Karnataka wildlife sanctuaries. “Just last week, we decided to use our field bases, staff and resources to expand Wild Surakshe by supporting local primary health centers,” Karanth said. Within a week, they contacted over 200 PHCs in Karnataka and Goa to find out what medical supplies and other resources they need. “The first 12 CSPs will be getting supplies from my team this week,” she said. “It’s something I never imagined I would achieve in such a short period of time being locked in our homes.”

Listen to Episode 7 of Outliers here.

You can listen to previous episodes of Outliers here. Outliers is also available on most podcast platforms.

Outliers is presented by Pankaj Mishra and produced by Anand Murali

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