Dr. Krithi K. Karanth – Solo Science To Citizen Science
Dr. Krithi K. Karanth is an Associate Conservation Scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, a Ramanujan Fellow at the Centre for Wildlife Studies, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Duke University. Her research spans 17 years and a broad variety of issues. Dr. Karanth was selected as the 10,000th Grantee and Emerging Explorer for the year 2012 by National Geographic.
Having grown up exploring the forests of India with my father Ullas Karanth (tiger expert and conservation biologist), I had an extraordinary albeit unusual childhood. I spent hours observing animals and exploring wonderful places, and had the unique privilege of watching and learning from my father as he collared and tracked wild tigers and leopards. As an only child, I had to learn to adapt to simple and challenging environments and to find ways of staying out of trouble. However, the hardships he faced as a scientist and conservationist made me decide, as a teenager, not to pursue a career in wildlife.
Many years later while studying for my Masters at Yale, I found myself designing a research project that examined people-park interaction in Karnataka’s spectacularly beautiful Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary. A car accident on the second day of my field work resulted in a cracked kneecap, leaving me distraught. For me this meant that the project I had spent months planning, obtaining funding and permissions for was over. But I was determined to complete this project. A month later, I hobbled back, and resolutely began walking transects in pouring rain, getting bitten by leeches, and tramping through rugged mountainous terrain to collect data. Though physically painful and mentally challenging, the three months I spent in this amazing park reignited my childhood passion for wild nature, effectively pushing me to become a conservation biologist.
Over the years, I have been lucky to work and travel to thousands of villages and explore many wild places in India. Every field experience reinforces my belief that we still have a lot to protect and that every conservation battle matters. Ensuring wild India thrives, while solving people’s needs, is the focus of my research and conservation efforts.
My research now takes place in seven Indian states, and this effort has trained over 500 Indian citizen science volunteers in the collection of scientific data. This has resulted in the publication of more than 35 peer-reviewed papers in journals of repute. These volunteers have come from all walks of life, aged 18-50, from as many as 15 Indian states. Most people volunteer because they care for wildlife, but the individual and personal field experiences they gained probably afforded them a much deeper, more nuanced understanding of the conservation challenges facing India. I believe that citizen science is critical to engaging the public to care for and participate in wildlife conservation.
First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXV No. 6, June 2015.