Opinion| Taking empathy route to resolve man-animal conflict
Indian conservation scientist, Krithi Karanth has embarked on a research study to see if empathy for wildlife can be developed among school-going children living near tiger reserves in Karnataka and Maharashtra. This programme has already reached 50 schools and 2,500 children in Karnataka.
The results of how the programme titled Wild Shale has impacted children and their relationship with the wild is being analysed by a team of conservation scientists and will be published soon. Wild Shale is among programmes for which Karanth, a Ramanujam fellow and executive director of Bangalore-based Centre for Wildlife Studies was named one of the five 2019 Rolex laureates earlier this month.
Karanth (40) will receive 200,000 swiss francs to further the cause of wildlife conservation as awardee of the Rolex Award for Enterprise. The award recognises implications of human wildlife conflict in India where only about 5% of geographical area is in protected wilderness category.
“I saw kids here have an amazing opportunity to see elephants and wild animals up close. But they are in fear of wildlife,” said Karanth. Her own experience as a child accompanying her father, noted wildlife biologist, Ullas Karanth on tiger trails inspired her relationship with wilderness.
Karanth has collaborated with international academics like Gabby Salazar from University of Florida and Morena Mills, professor at Imperial College London and designed a four part conservation education programme for schools which uses art, storytelling and games to change children’s orientation towards wildlife. The programme, with funding from National Geographic, is likely to reach 450 schools around protected areas in Karnataka and Maharashtra this year.
The programme aims to build interest in Indian wildlife and wild places, empathy for wildlife and give children some coping mechanisms to deal with conflict.
Another one of her initiatives, which reaches out to wildlife-conflict affected people around Bandipur and Nagarhole tiger reserves in Karnataka also caught the attention of the award’s jury which includes philanthropists, explorers and scientists. This time the general public was also allowed to vote online for its chosen laureate.
Karanth is among few wildlife scientists who has chosen not to focus on big cats. Instead, she has conducted macro-level studies assessing patterns of species distributions and extinctions, impacts of wildlife tourism, consequences of voluntary resettlement of forest dwellers, land use change and understanding human-wildlife interactions.
Her research on how India deals with wildlife conflict has revealed that the amount of compensation paid is often lower than cost of livestock killed. The compensation amount varies by state, some states do not compensate for crop loss, Nagaland doesn’t yet compensate for human death due to wildlife conflict, Karanth’s research found. “We have high densities of people living next to parks, higher than anywhere in the world,” said Krithi.
Krithi is also among the handful of women conservation scientists working on the field in India. “It is difficult for women to be in the field as people often work in remote and difficult conditions. However, more and more young women are joining the field. Scientists and women scientists are not taken seriously enough not just in India,” she said.
Rolex Awards for Enterprise was launched in 1976 to support pioneering men and women whose work is focused on improving human well-being and protecting natural heritage.
Herpetologist, founder of the Madras Snake Park and the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station Romulus Whitaker and educationist from Ladakh, Sonam Wangchuk are among Rolex laureates from India.
“Human wildlife conflict is a huge problem in India and it’s facets only seem to be increasing. With the current drought, both people and wildlife are affected; leopards are dying getting stuck to transformers as more and linear projects intrude into habitats, human elephant conflict has tolls on both sides. The area needs more research,” said Neha Sinha, advocacy and policy officer at Bombay Natural History Society.