Dr. Krithi Karanth is a 2012 Emerging Explorer. She works in her native India, where more than a billion people live with wildlife, including elephants, monkeys, and endangered Asiatic lions and tigers.
Most toddlers spot their first tiger behind glass in a public zoo, but not Krithi. At age three, she was already in the jungle with her father, a conservationist gathering data on the tigers of India.
“I grew up spending a lot of my time in parks throughout India, tagging along with him and watching tigers at a very young age,” she says.
As Krithi got older, she shied away from conservation, thinking she would go into history or law. “But, I had a series of good biology and geography teachers and those are my two loves,” she says. “I got into geography first, because I love maps and I love looking at the world.”
A field project in the Western Ghats sparked her true passion for conservation, a passion that may have now latched onto her young daughter.
“My daughter is 5 years old and loves going out to the field!” Krithi says.
MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK
“I feel like the results we come up with really make a difference to either wildlife or people, and both have an impact in the real world. To me, that’s what gives me my kicks.”
MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK
Krithi says that there are two things that can make her career challenging at times. “One is being a woman,” she says. “You have qualifications, but people do not take you seriously. You are constantly butting heads, and it takes a long time for people to value what you are saying.
“The other thing is, I think most scientists fail at communication. I have learned that if I don’t write up my stuff in popular versions and don’t get other people involved in my work, ultimately, it’s just me talking to 500 academics and it’s really not going to make a difference.”
HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?
“I think geography is exploring the world. I find it funny that geography was kind of going downhill as a discipline. Now, thanks to GIS and remote sensing, whatever your views are, it has come back out and it has resurrected the discipline a little bit.”
Krithi documents the shared landscape of India’s wildlife and rural settlements. She doesn’t work alone, however. Krithi is one of many conservationists who rely on citizen science. Citizen science is the practice of public participation and collaboration in scientific research.
With the help of citizen scientists—200 to 300 people within the past year—Krithi has been able to travel to thousands of villages in India. She and her team of volunteers (mostly urban Indians, Krithi notes) collect data on how rural Indians coexist with wildlife. These data will be used to strengthen protection for parks, encourage cultural tolerance for wildlife, and compensate people suffering from conflict with animals (mostly crop destruction).
“I combine the technology with doing interviews and surveys about the villages, asking people about conflict or other issues that we are interested in,” she says. “Ultimately, when we download the points on a map and show the volunteers the areas on a map of where they went, everyone gets into it. In that sense, geography is very much alive. It’s not just technology, there is meaning to that technology.”
SO, YOU WANT TO BE A . . . CONSERVATION BIOLOGIST
Krithi recommends putting down your phone or iPad every so often and getting out there to explore the world around you. She encourages going for a walk or a hike, while seeing unknown places and meeting new people.
“You don’t have to sit back and say ‘I can’t do anything’,” Krithi says. “Little things like posting things on social media, posting a picture, or sending a text message, they all have a huge power.”