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2019 Rolex Awards Laureate

Krithi Karanth

As human numbers surge, conflicts between people and the planet’s dwindling wildlife are multiplying – but Indian conservationist Krithi Karanth is convinced this problem can be solved.

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In her home country, India, wild animals are squeezed into just 5 per cent of the continent’s land mass, resulting in many thousands of clashes every year between human communities and wildlife – such as leopards, tigers and elephants – leading to damage and death on both sides.

The Indian Government pays out $5 million yearly in compensation to farmers and villagers for wildlife damage, but Karanth estimates those compensated may only represent a fraction of the people actually affected by clashes.

Human-wildlife conflict involves people losing crops to elephants, losing livestock to tigers.

Krithi Karanth

In 2015, she set up a service for villagers to call for compensation if they had suffered from wildlife losses: known as Wild Seve, it identifies conflict hotspots and currently serves half a million people living in 600 villages near Bandipur and Nagarahole Parks in the State of Karnataka. It has filed 14,000 claims for 6,400 families, worth $200,000, which has decreased hostility and increased trust between conservationists and communities.

Now she plans to expand Wild Seve to 1,000 more villages and field-test measures in high-conflict zones to reduce crop damage and make people, livestock and wildlife safer.

Local attitudes and awareness are crucial. Karanth, who is aged 40, plans to run Wild Shaale, a conservation education programmes in 300 schools in high-conflict areas, reaching 20,000 children, and to survey community attitudes in vulnerable villages. In time, she hopes this could become a model for community-based conservation worldwide for those living in close proximity to wildlife.