The roar of Krithi Karanth is diminutive but mighty. Last year the Supreme Court of India cited findings by the 34-year-old conservation biologist in a landmark case that overturned a ban on visiting tiger sanctuaries in favor of smart regulations promoting responsible tourism.
Consider it the moment Karanth earned her stripes. Make that more stripes: As a young girl in Karnataka, Karanth spent her summers tracking tigers, leopards, and other predators with her father and other esteemed scientists.
Later she earned advanced degrees from Yale, Duke, and Columbia; two years ago, Karanth won National Geographic’s 10,000th research grant and now the Society counts her among the esteemed alumni of its Emerging Explorers program. Based in Bangalore, she probes bound-aries—between humans and animals as well as those around this male-dominated field.
Hear more about how this native daughter is revolutionizing India’s approach to wildlife conservation and get the inside scoop on her favorite place in the world–in her own words.
My most vivid early memories are sitting quietly with my dad in a park watchtower at Nagarhole National Park, for five or six hours at a time with only binoculars. At the end of the day—if I behaved—he’d drive me through the jungle. That’s what I looked forward to all day. I saw my first leopard when I was around one and a half. I don’t go looking for tigers and leopards, but it’s a rush to see one.
Three million Indians now have disposable incomes for wildlife holidays. That puts a lot of pressure on our parks. Tadoba National Park in central India and Nagarhole and Bandipur in the Western Ghats of the south provide good chances of seeing a tiger, in a way that doesn’t harass it.
Eye of the Tiger
People need to be willing to say, “If I see a tiger, I’m lucky”—not “my trip is successful only if I see one.” India also has leopards, elephants, the incredible Asiatic wild dog, critically endangered frogs, a huge diversity of birds.
Around a hundred years ago, India was like Africa in terms of large mammals, but our population boom and economic growth have pushed a lot of wildlife into smaller pockets. Yet India still has charismatic animals as well as millions of people. No other place on Earth supports all these fantastic species and also this many people tolerating them.
I could hike the Western Ghats mountain range for days. The views go on endlessly, in extraordinary shades of blue and green. It’s one of India’s biodiversity hotspots, with 20 percent of the country’s tigers, the largest number of Asian elephants, three bear species, leopards.
Most people come to India between October and March, but it’s phenomenal to experience summer monsoons in the Ghats. It’s not for people who can’t handle leeches or muddy boots, though.
So many tourists walk around with their fancy cameras, obsessed with getting the perfect photograph. They forget to watch, and to see other wildlife. They forget to live the experience.
Katie Knorovsky is an associate editor at National Geographic Traveler magazine. Follow her on Twitter @TravKatieK.