International Tiger Day: 'We should dream and aspire for more than 3,000 tigers,' says conservation scientist Krithi Karanth
Krithi Karanth's research in India and Asia spanning over 22 years, encompasses various topics around wildlife conservation. Having conducted macro-level studies assessing patterns of species distributions and extinctions, impacts of wildlife tourism, consequences of voluntary resettlement, land-use change and understanding human-wildlife interactions, the 41-year-old is the Chief Conservation Scientist and Director at the Centre for Wildlife Studies, Bangalore.
On International Tiger Day, we speak to Krithi, who discusses why we should protect our tigers, the impact of the pandemic on wildlife and how we can do our part in conserving them.
Excerpts from the interview:
Statistics show us that the tiger population in India sees an improvement. Are we doing enough?
Krithi Karanth: My father Dr. K. Ullas Karanth is one of the pioneering Tiger biologists in the world and his work has shown that India has space to actually accommodate up to 10,000 tigers. So being satisfied with it, I think 3000 Tigers is not something we should be constantly patting our backs on. Yes, tigers are doing much better in India today than say in the 1970s or 80s, but I think we should dream bigger and aspire for many more than 3000 tigers.
At this point, what's the main threat to preserving forests and its species?
Krithi: At an all India scale, there are multiple threats to forests and wildlife. Certainly, the rapid infrastructure development that's creating expansion of roads, highways, mining areas, solar hydel, wind power. All of these rapid environmental clearances across the country in wildlife areas directly affects wildlife and affects their ability to move across landscapes once the fragmentation happens at a local scale. Additionally, poaching, wildlife trade, human-wildlife conflict and other local human activities continue to have an impact.
Have the changes in the environment such as global warming affected the lives of our tigers?
Krithi: Not really. Climate change is a serious issue no doubt and it will affect wildlife over the long term. To really understand these long term effects, people need to be monitoring tigers and other species on a large scale and over long periods of time to actually evaluate this.
This Tiger Day, how do we make sure we do our part in conserving tigers?
Krithi: I think the impact of this pandemic has clearly demonstrated that not just tigers but all wildlife species are inextricably connected to people. Tinkering with nature particularly fragmenting and disturbing their habitats, engaging in the hunting of their prey and consumption of wild meat will lead to the emergence of more zoonotic diseases. I mean, COVID is an extreme example, but HIV, Ebola, Nipah virus and Rabies, there are many known examples. And once zoonosis jumps to people, we can see the devastating impacts. I think it's really important that we create intact habitat spaces that allow wildlife to live and move securely and reduce opportunities for disease transmission between people and wildlife as much as possible.
Please share a fun experience of yours involving spotting/dealing with a tiger
Krithi: Oh, there are so many. I was very lucky because I saw my first tiger since the time I was two. And I've spent the last 22 years as a professional scientist, explorer and conservationist working in many parks and for me, every time I see a tiger, I’m equally excited. People often ask me how many tigers I have seen. I don't keep count. Sometimes we have worked for days without seeing a single tiger, and on the very last day, we have some amazing sightings. Other times, I have seen them as l enter a park. The joy is indescribable- every single time. Every single one is an exciting experience.
Tell us made you want to be an explorer/conservationist.
As far as being a professional scientist and conservationist, I spent my entire childhood tagging along with my dad watching animals and seeing first the joy is indescribable- every single time. Every single one is an exciting experience and both science and conservation unfold. Basically going to lots of parks. I was about 19 years old when I professionally decided that I want to pursue a career in environmental science and in conservation, specifically, by the time I was 22.
I've been a National Geographic Explorer for nine years now and over the years, they have supported a lot of my work. What I love about Nat Geo is that in the initial stages of a project when you're thinking and creating new things, they are always willing to take the risk and to support it before anyone else. This gives a lot of freedom and flexibility to think of new ideas and implementing projects.