Krithi Karanth spends most of her time trudging through the dense forests and grasslands of India.
The young, petite Dr. Karanth has become a torchbearer for wildlife conservation in India, having worked on more than 25 projects while visiting remote villages and wildlife parks.
Karanth, an adjunct assistant professor at Duke University, associate conservation scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society (USA), and executive director at the Centre for Wildlife Studies in Bangalore, India, says she owes her passion to her extraordinary childhood.
Thanks to her father, Dr. K. Ullas Karanth, one of the pioneering conservation biologists of India, Krithi grew up around wildlife.
“From the tender age of 1, I grew up watching wild animals at close range, watching my father collaring and tracking tigers and leopards,” she recalls.
But Karanth also saw firsthand the difficult side of conservation – nasty threats, poaching, and forest fires. For a long time, she thought she wanted to “be anything other than a conservation biologist.”
But during her master’s program, she found herself designing a field project in the Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. A car accident on her second day of fieldwork resulted in a leg injury that required forced rest. But she was determined to complete the project.
“A month later I hobbled back resolutely in pouring rain and rugged terrain to collect data,” she recalls. “Though physically painful and mentally challenging, the three months I spent in this park reignited my childhood passion for wild nature, and I made a decision to become a conservation biologist.”
She began by building a database of historical observations from British naturalists and the wildlife shooting records of maharajahs. Talking to wildlife experts across India, she re-created where people had seen wild animals from 1850 to the early 1900s – a massive database of 30,000 locations and more than 100 species. Her study helped document huge declines in the distribution of wildlife across India over the past 150 years.