Krithi KaranthReduce wildlife-human conflict in India
As world population surges towards 8 billion, conflicts between people and the planet’s dwindling wildlife over food, resources and space for living are multiplying – but conservationist Krithi Karanth is proving that this is a problem that can be mitigated.
In her home country, India, every year there are hundreds of thousands of cases where communities and wildlife, such as leopards, tigers and elephants, clash. The result is damage, injury and death on both sides.
Wild animals are not attuned to human boundaries, with the result that people and their livestock are often injured or killed, crops are destroyed and property damaged. Communities may then exact revenge by killing the wild animals, Karanth says.
The Indian government hands out over US$5 million in compensation to farmers and villagers for wildlife damage every year, but Karanth estimates the 80,000 cases compensated may only represent the tip of the iceberg of actual conflicts between people and wild animals as the government lacks the resources to process claims quickly.
The daughter of a tiger biologist and conservationist, Karanth grew up with an abiding love for India’s imperilled natural wonders: “I saw tigers and leopards by the time I was two. When I was eight years old, I was tracking tigers with my father, learning to camera trap when I was a teenager. So, I spent the first 17 years of my childhood outdoors in the wild – and I assumed this is what everybody’s childhood was like.”
She found, to her dismay, that this is far from the case. As India heads for the title of the world’s most populous nation, only five per cent of its terrain is reserved for nature – a fraction of that set aside in comparable countries. Yet, it has 70 per cent of the world’s tigers and 50 per cent of its Asian elephants.
Karanth’s approach to wildlife-human conflict is simple, based on lessons learned and proven techniques. In 2015, she established a toll-free number for villagers to call for assistance in filing for compensation when they suffer losses. Known as Wild Seve, it currently serves half a million people living in 600 villages near Bandipur and Nagarahole parks in the state of Karnataka. It has filed 15,000 claims for 7,000 families, worth US$555,000. This pragmatic approach has increased trust and reduced hostility towards wildlife in these communities.
She is expanding the Wild Seve project to three more parks and 1,000 more villages. She uses mobile technology to identify conflict hot spots that need particular focus and field-tests measures in 1,000 households in high-conflict zones, such as predator-proof sheds, alternative crops and fences, to reduce crop damage and make people and their livestock safer.
Karanth believes improving local attitudes and awareness is critical. In parallel, she is running Wild Shaale, a conservation education programme in 500 schools in high-conflict areas, reaching 30,000 children. In time, Wild Seve and Wild Shaale could together become a worldwide model for conservation. “I think it could work in Africa, South America and parts of Asia where people and wildlife live in close proximity.
“I’m always an optimist and never give up,” Karanth adds. “I think India is doing better now than it did 50 years ago. A lot of places are in trouble… a lot of species are in trouble, but we have technology and more public support for wildlife conservation. We have resources that the world didn’t have 10 years or 20 years ago. We just need to be smart about deploying them in time.”
of India’s terrain is reserved for nature
India has 70% of the world’s tigers and 50% of its Asian elephants