Krithi Karanth began visiting forests when she was two-years-old, accompanying her father, Ullas, on his trips. Now a conservation scientist who serves as adjunct associate professor at Duke University, she was radio-collaring tigers, studying predatory habits and tracking migration patterns by the age of eight. Saving India’s rich natural heritage means salvaging her memories of an idyllic childhood as Krithi takes on her father’s mantle with determination. She talks to Rohan Ramesh about the challenges of her job and the importance of finding a balance between development and protecting our natural heritage.
As her young friends busied themselves with their favourite toys, two-year-old Krithi would set off to explore forests with her father, the celebrated conservationist, Dr. Ullas Karanth.
“He started taking me to the forests when I was two. We would sit in the watch tower, waiting for animals to appear. And he made it very interesting by playing who would spot an animal first,” Krithi recalls. Those visits seeded in the Keerthi’s mind a keen interest in jungles and wildlife that has not dimmed. “My happiest memories as a child are the times I got to spend in the jungles with my father,” she reminisces.
Later, as she grew up, the visits to jungles only grew more frequent. Dr Karanth began taking eight-year-old Krithi to radio-collaring tigers and setting up camera traps, to track their movement and migration patterns. This sowed the seeds for what would turn out to be a deep, longstanding interest in forests, animals, and the need to conserve. Today, it is a career choice she embraces with great passion.
That enthusiasm turned quickly into activism and academic pursuit involving ground studies, tracking, monitoring and documenting wildlife, their haunts, life cycles, predatory habits, migration patterns, and the entire food chain in the jungles. Krithi is also a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Wildlife Studies (India) and Affiliate Faculty, National Centre for Biological Studies (India). Her passion and commitment even fetched her recognition as a Young Global Leader by World Economic Forum.
“I think we need to set apart land for wildlife. We also need to fiercely hold on to what we have,” says Krithi, even as she laments the shrinking of forests and the habitat of animals such as tigers. Development devouring forests worries her to no end, but she is realistic enough to realise the need to balance the two.
“There is immense pressure on animal habitat in India’s forests. The lives of animals are hindered by the explosive growth of infrastructure.”
The laying of new roads through forests have disrupted the lives and migratory patterns of animals which are now straying into human habitations, leading to man-animal conflict, where the immediate loser will be the animals, but the long-term loser will be mankind. The inter-generational equity demands that the wildlife be saved for the future generations, to enjoy and marvel at the magnificence of nature.
But despite seeing the destruction of forests and the tragic depletion of wildlife has not turned Krithi have not dulled her realist sensibilities or dampened her enthusiasm in any way. She realises that the needs of development cannot be denied. The growing population needs natural resources, both in terms of forests, and the minerals that lie beneath the verdure too.
“Opening of new mines and other establishments are the milestones that the country needs to take care of its growing population. But it is putting a lot of pressure on wildlife,” she says.
That, of course, leads inevitable, but tragic man-animal conflict. The burgeoning populations world over has encroached on forests world over, and it has not only affected animals, but humans too, as the natural order of things has been disrupted, with consequences some of which are evident, but many yet to come.
Krithi says that the basic reason for man-animal conflict in wildlife habitats and their fringes happens to be hunting of domestic animals by tigers and leopards, and devouring and destruction of crops by elephants. The only way forward for conservation is to co-opt local populations and make stakeholders in conserving forests and animals living in them.
“We must ensure we don’t lose livestock. People living within five to ten kilometres near national parks, their needs should be taken care of, otherwise they will surely retaliate against animals,” Krithi remarks.
“There are local challenges as well as large-scale inner level challenges that need to be addressed,” she caustically observes....